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Lesson 72: How Grace Leads To Repentance (Genesis 43:15-44:17)

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Years ago, a leading pastor’s journal ran an article by an anonymous pastor who described his losing battle against lust and his “addiction” to pornography. I did not read the article because Marla read it first and told me that it was too gross for me to read. But based on her comments, I wrote a letter to the journal in which I expressed my concern that the man’s approach for dealing with his problem was not in line with Scripture, and I outlined a more biblical approach.

Five years after the article appeared, the same anonymous pastor gave an update on his struggle. As Marla read the update, she said, “Hey, he quotes you!” Sure enough, he quoted from my letter, saying that I could not identify with his struggle and that I was offering him “stern advice, mostly consisting of admonishments from the Bible.” The implication was that to tell him what the Bible said was not compassionate and not much help in coping with this terrible “addiction.”

On other occasions I have been accused of not understanding or not preaching grace because I often preach against sin and call people to holy living. The current common evangelical notion is that grace means having a hang-loose attitude, and, above all, not coming down too hard on sin.

The grace of God is a crucial theological concept to understand. Grace is at the heart of salvation, for we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8‑9). Grace is essential for holy living, because Paul says that sin shall not have dominion over us, because we are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14). Grace is the motivation for serving God, because Paul says that by God’s grace, he labored even more than the other apostles; then he adds, “yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

So in light of the prevailing idea that grace implies being easy on sin, and because of the pervasive influence which God’s grace has on the Christian life, it is crucial for you to think clearly about grace. Properly understood, grace does not lead to tolerance of sin, but to the fear of God and to turning away from sin (Ps. 130:3-4; Titus 2:11‑14). This is illustrated in our text, the story of Joseph’s second meeting with his brothers, which portrays the truth of Romans 2:4, that “the kindness of God leads [us] to repentance.”

Joseph’s brothers have finally convinced their father, Jacob, that he must part with Benjamin if they want to buy more grain from the harsh man in Egypt, who is holding their brother, Simeon, in prison. So the brothers took the present Jacob prepared, plus their original money which had been mysteriously returned to them, plus enough to buy more grain, and Benjamin, and returned to Egypt.

Quaking in their sandals, they stood before Joseph, who didn’t speak to them, but said something to his steward. The next thing they knew they were taken to Joseph’s house. The brothers feared that he was going to enslave them on account of the money that had somehow been put back in their sacks on their first visit. So they explained matters to the steward, who told them, “Relax! Your God and the God of your fathers has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” Then he brought out Simeon. The next thing the brothers knew, they were treated to a lavish feast. When they were seated according to their precise birth order, they got an eerie feeling--what did this man know? And it seemed strange that Benjamin was given five times more food than anyone else.

But the next morning they were sent on their way; everything was fine. As they left the city and headed out for Canaan, they were giving each other “high fives.” Simeon was freed; Benjamin wasn’t taken hostage; they had enjoyed a great meal; and, they had their sacks stuffed with more grain. They could hardly wait to get home and tell their father the good news. They were relieved to be through dealing with this powerful, mysterious Egyptian. They hoped the famine would be over before they had to come back again.

Suddenly their happy chatter came to a halt as they were overtaken by Joseph’s steward, who accused them of stealing Joseph’s silver drinking cup. They protested their innocence. After all, they had been honest enough to bring back their money from the first trip, as well as their younger brother. How could he accuse them of such a thing? But a search discovered the cup in Benjamin’s sack, where the steward had planted it as Joseph had directed. The shocked brothers returned to Joseph, where Judah spoke for all by saying, ““What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants” (44:16). He goes on to plead that he may become a slave in Benjamin’s place, which leads Joseph finally to reveal his identity to his brothers.

In all of this, Joseph has been testing his brothers, to lead them to repentance for their sin of selling him into slavery 22 years before. He is finding out their attitude toward their father, toward Benjamin, and toward God. When he sees that they are truly repentant, he reveals his identity. His actions toward his brothers parallel God’s action in leading us to repentance. The story shows how ...

God’s grace leads us to repentance by revealing His great love and our great sin.

Joseph’s love for his brothers motivates all that he does, even the things which seem to be harsh. His actions show how ...

1. God’s grace leads to repentance by revealing His great love.

This isn’t the first time that the brothers have encountered Joseph’s love for them. When they returned home from their first trip and each discovered his money returned, it was because of Joseph’s love. I doubt if he intended for them to panic.

A similar thing happens on this second journey. The brothers arrive and Joseph tells his steward to take them to his house for lunch. His intention is simply to treat them to a good meal and to find out any news from home, as well as to discern where their hearts are at. But the brothers panic and think that he is going to take them as slaves. Shakespeare wrote, “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind” (“Henry VI”). Here, the brothers’ longstanding guilt is still haunting them. When Joseph had put them in the dungeon on the first trip, even though it had been over 20 years since their crime, and there had been no mention of it, they said, “Truly we are guilty because of our brother ...; therefore this distress has come upon us” (42:21). Now their guilt makes them suspicious of Joseph’s love.

A. Guilt causes us to fear God’s love.

As John Newton wrote in “Amazing Grace”: “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” When you know you’re guilty, God’s undeserved favor makes you feel uneasy. What’s the catch? It sounds too good to be true.

So, what do you do? You try to pay your own way. That makes you feel better about the arrangement. So when the brothers get to Joseph’s house, they spend their time waiting for him to come by arranging the gift that they’ve brought to placate him (43:25). After all, their attempt to return their money hadn’t made the impression they had hoped for. So everything was riding on this gift. “Reuben, do you think the almonds should be given first?” “No, I think we should save the almonds for last. Let’s give him the pistachio nuts first.” They were counting on this gift as their hope for acceptance.

That’s typical of sinful man’s attempt to approach God with his own efforts. A man is nervous about his sin when he approaches a holy God, so he says, “Maybe if I give some money at church, God will accept me. Maybe I’ll add some other good deeds, too.” So we bring our pistachio nuts and almonds to placate our guilty consciences and hopefully be accepted by God. But God’s response is the same as Joseph’s: He completely ignores our gifts! Joseph doesn’t even comment on their elaborate present.

There is a good reason, of course, for us to be afraid of approaching God: We are guilty; He is absolutely holy. He has the power to do to us whatever He wants, just as Joseph could have sold his brothers into slavery if he had chosen to do so. If that were all we knew of God, we would never dare to approach Him. But there is another side, God’s kindness and grace, which encourages us to relax a bit and join Him at His table.

B. God’s grace relieves our fears‑‑almost!

“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Joseph’s kind treatment of his brothers allowed them to enjoy this sumptuous meal (43:34). But they still have not dealt with that nagging, deep-down guilt, so their fears are not totally relieved at this point. You sense that they really relax only after they head for home.

Note the many signs of Joseph’s love for his brothers. First, there is the steward’s great reply when the brothers express their concern about the money in their sacks (43:23). Coming from an Egyptian steward, it must have stunned these men. “Be at ease” is literally, “Shalom!” “Peace to you, don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” He’s saying, “I received your money, but somehow your God returned it to you. Take it as a gift from Him.” It shows that Joseph had been talking to his steward about the true God. Returning their money was a sign of Joseph’s love for his brothers.

Next, Simeon was returned. They didn’t know but what he was long gone, on some chain gang building the pyramids. My guess is that he had put on a little weight during his stay in prison. His healthy return to his brothers was another sign of Joseph’s love. Then, the steward brought out water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys (43:24). They weren’t being treated roughly, as prisoners, but with the respect given to honored guests.

When Joseph arrived home, he asked them (still using an interpreter) about their welfare, and especially about their father. Then Joseph saw Benjamin. He had seen him from a distance earlier in the day (43:16), but now he could see him better. Joseph was 16 years older than Benjamin, his only full brother. Benjamin had been only a year old the last time Joseph had seen him. As he gazed upon Benjamin, thoughts of his family and his mother, who died giving birth to this child, flooded over him. He managed to say, “May God be gracious to you, my son” before he was overcome with emotion and left the room to weep.

Then, he treats them to this great feast. Joseph, being the master, sat at a table by himself. His Egyptian servants sat at another table, not wanting to defile themselves by eating with these Hebrews. They must have wondered why in the world Joseph would invite these hicks from the sticks to eat in his home. Then, even more puzzling, why did he keep giving them portions from his table, a sign of special honor? Benjamin got five times as much, again due to Joseph’s special love for his own full brother. Some think he was testing the other brothers, to see if they would be jealous.

The final expression of Joseph’s love is seen when he tells his steward to fill each man’s sack with as much food as they can carry and to return each man’s money again to his sack. He didn’t want them to have to pay for their food, but wanted to supply it freely because he loved them.

To this point the story is a marvelous illustration of what theologians call “common grace,” which is God’s undeserved kindness shown to every person. Like Joseph’s brothers, who had sinned terribly against him, every person has sinned against God. If He gave us what we deserve, we would all go straight to hell. But as Jesus said, “He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). He grants us the many blessings of life when we deserve His judgment, so that we will turn from our sin.

Romans 2:4, asks: “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” If you have not turned from your sin to faith Christ, you are shrugging off the kindness of God. The next verse warns, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” In other words, now is the time when God has graciously shown you His kindness so that you may turn to Him. But if you shrug it off, the day of judgment lies ahead.

I said that God’s grace relieves our fears‑‑almost! What I mean is, at this point in the story, before the brothers have acknowledged their sin, the kind treatment they have received from their brother whom they have wronged has almost taken away the fear caused by their guilt--almost, but not quite. When they sit down to this meal, to their astonishment they are seated in the exact order of their birth. And, contrary to custom, the youngest is given the most. This made these brothers a bit nervous. They had the feeling that this man had some uncanny power to know things which they had not revealed.

As you begin to warm up to God’s love, your fears due to your guilt are almost relieved. Almost, because you begin to sense that this One with whom you have to do is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of your heart, that all things are laid bare before Him. It’s a bit disturbing! And you begin to see that He doesn’t deal with you as the world does, with the privileges going to the strong. Rather, the weak are the objects of His grace. He doesn’t let you keep drawing near to Him based on your strength, while you cover up past sins. His grace peels back layer after layer, until you stand naked and defenseless before Him.

Even so, Joseph wouldn’t let his brothers skate away without getting to the bottom of their sin, which they must bring to the light. So he planted his special drinking cup in Benjamin’s sack and sent them away, only to bring them back ready to admit their guilt and sin.

2. God’s grace leads to repentance by revealing our great sin.

Joseph’s final test, of placing his drinking cup in Benjamin’s sack, revealed whether or not his brothers were truly repentant over what they did to him years before, because it gave them the chance to treat Benjamin just as they had treated Joseph. They could have left Benjamin in slavery in Egypt, told their father what happened to his favorite son, and moved on with their own lives. But there had been a change in their hearts. They would not abandon Benjamin, even if it meant their own slavery, and they would not return to their father without him.

There are different views of Joseph’s “divination” cup. I think it was part of his continuing disguise. He identifies it to his steward as “my cup, the silver cup,” but then instructs him to tell his brothers that it is the cup his master uses for divination (44:2, 5). The steward wouldn’t have thought of it this way, because Joseph didn’t practice divination. But he tells his brothers (44:15), “Don’t you know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?” because he wanted them to think that he was an Egyptian with the power to know their secrets until they confess their sin. But their tendency, like ours, was to cover it.

A. Our inclination is to extol our innocence.

When the steward overtakes the brothers and accuses them of stealing Joseph’s cup, they protest their innocence. Of course, they were innocent of this charge. But it’s kind of like nailing a mafia guy on a sting operation where he’s innocent of this crime, but he’s done the same thing and worse many other times. The steward, knowing exactly where the cup is, begins with the oldest and works down the line. As each sack comes up empty, the brothers self‑confidently nod their heads, saying, “See, there’s no cup. You’re wasting your time.” But then he comes to Benjamin’s sack, pulls out the cup, and the brothers are in big trouble.

God used this to strip these brothers of their self‑confidence and cast them upon Joseph’s mercy. He has to bring us all to the place where we give up trusting our own integrity and our gifts that we bring to gain acceptance, so that we fall before Him and seek His undeserved favor. F. B. Meyer writes (Joseph [CLC], p. 86.),

There is a stolen cup in your sack, my respectable, reputable, moral friend. You are probably unconscious of it. You pride yourself upon your blameless life. You suppose that Christ Himself has no controversy with you. But if only you knew, you would see that you are robbing Him of His own. You use for yourself time and money and talents which He bought with His own precious blood, ...

B. God’s intent is to expose our iniquity.

Even though the brothers knew they were innocent of taking this cup, they also knew they were guilty of a whole lot more. Judah speaks for them all in saying, “God has found out the iniquity of your servants” (44:16). True repentance doesn’t make up a defense for the small area where you’re innocent, but rather admits the larger sphere where you’re guilty.

Joseph twists the knife when he says, “I’ll keep as my slave the one who took the cup; the rest of you, go in peace to your father” (44:17). How could they go in peace to their father if they left Benjamin as a slave? When they stick with Benjamin, Joseph knows that they have fully repented of their sins. That leads him to reveal his identity to them.


God’s grace should lead us to expose our sin, not to cover it. God’s grace doesn’t paper over guilt. His grace means that Christ bore our guilt so that we could go free. That should lead us to repentance.

During the Korean War, a South Korean Christian man was arrested by the Communists and ordered shot. But when the young Communist leader learned that the man was in charge of an orphanage, he decided to spare him and kill his son instead. So they took this man’s 19 year-old son and shot him as the man watched in horror.

Later, the same young Communist leader was captured by the UN forces, was tried and condemned to death. But before the sentence could be carried out, the Christian whose son this man had killed came and pled for the life of the killer. He argued that this Communist was young, that he really did not know what he was doing. The Christian said, “Give him to me and I will train him.” They granted the request, so this father took the murderer of his son into his own home and cared for him. Today, that man who was shown such unusual kindness is a Christian pastor. Grace led him to repentance.

Like Joseph with his brothers, the Lord already knows about your sins, but He wants you to confess and forsake them, so that He can reveal Himself to you. The Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died to rescue us from the penalty of our sins. When we see His great love and our own great sin, the only proper response is to turn from our sin to His loving arms.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are grace and obedience opposing concepts? How do they fit together?
  2. Do we emphasize God’s love: a) too much? b) not enough? c) about right? What about His wrath and judgment?
  3. How do repentance and faith fit together? Is repentance necessary for salvation or is faith alone sufficient?
  4. Discuss: A false concept of grace in our day has led many Christians to be too sloppy about sin and too “chummy” with God.

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Confession, Grace, Hamartiology (Sin), Love, Spiritual Life

Lesson 73: Approaching God (Genesis 44:18-34)

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Have you ever thought about the fact that our American form of democratic government hinders us from understanding how to relate to God? Don’t misunderstand: I love our country and its form of government. But a system where we can vote our own minds gives us a lousy model of how to relate to a supreme authority, such as a king. And God is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the supreme, absolute, sole authority in the universe that He created. We cannot relate properly to Him unless we learn to submit to an absolute Sovereign. And our form of government leads us astray on that matter.

Americans cherish their individual right to challenge authority. If we don’t like a leader, we’ll vote the turkey out of office. The American spirit is summed up in the Revolutionary flag with a snake on it with the motto, “Don’t tread on me.” Nobody’s gonna push us around!

If we’re not careful, as American Christians we tend to bring that same defiant spirit into our relationship with God. This was pictured in a “Frank & Ernest” cartoon, where the two bunglers are approaching the Pearly Gates. A frowning Saint Peter is looking at Ernie, who is wearing a T-shirt that says, “Question Authority.” Frank whispers, “If I were you I’d change my shirt, Ernie.” If God’s Word says something that we don’t like, our attitude is, “I don’t have to obey that!” If a pastor teaches something we don’t like‑‑never mind if it’s in the Bible‑‑we’ll find another church more in line with our tastes. The concept of being in submission to church leaders sounds cultish to us. “If those church leaders don’t do what I want, I’ll either vote them out of office or take my money to another church!”

You may be wondering, “What does all this have to do with the story of Joseph and his brothers?” As we’ve seen, Joseph’s actions in dealing with his brothers parallel God’s actions in dealing with us to bring us to repentance. When his brothers stood before him, seeking to buy grain, and did not recognize him, Joseph immediately could have said, “I’m Joseph, you’re forgiven, and everything is wonderful!” But everything would not have been wonderful, because these brothers needed to repent of their terrible sin of selling Joseph into slavery before they could be restored. So Joseph put them through a series of tests to bring them to repentance, culminating in the incident of accusing Benjamin of stealing Joseph’s silver cup (44:1‑17).

Now the brothers have returned to face Joseph, falling before him (44:14). Judah, speaking for them all, reflects their repentant, broken spirit, when he cries, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants” (44:16). He then tells Joseph that they all would become his slaves. But Joseph gives them a final test, an opportunity to take advantage of Benjamin by saving themselves, when he says, “I’ll only keep as my slave the one in whose sack the cup was found; the rest of you can return to your father in peace.”

In reply, Judah gives this eloquent, impassioned speech, called by some the most moving speech in the Bible, in which he pleads with Joseph on behalf of Benjamin. Luther called this speech a perfect model of prayer. I suggest that Judah’s broken, contrite approach to this powerful monarch is a model for how we as sinners are to approach our God, the King of kings.

Sinners approach God by submitting to His authority, owning up to their sin, and appealing to His compassion.

There are three elements in Judah’s appeal: 1) An attitude, namely, submission to Joseph’s authority; 2) An action, namely, repentance, a change in Judah’s behavior in which he is willing to offer himself as a slave in Benjamin’s place; 3) An affection, or emotion, seen in the heartfelt appeal to Joseph’s compassion, where Judah sets forth the devastating effect which Benjamin’s slavery would have on his aged father, Jacob. These three elements show us, as sinners, how to approach our omnipotent, holy, sovereign God.

1. Sinners approach God by submitting to His authority.

When the brothers return after being caught with Joseph’s cup, even though they are innocent of this particular crime, they fall down before him (44:14). Never once do they question Joseph’s absolute right to do to them whatever he chooses. Judah begins and continues with total submissiveness: “Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh” (44:18). Even though he is dealing with what probably seemed to him an injustice, Judah puts himself completely at Joseph’s mercy and doesn’t presume that he even has a right to speak to him. From verse 16 to verse 34, Judah refers to himself or to Jacob as “your servant” 14 times, and 9 times he refers to Joseph as “my lord.” This illustrates two things about God’s authority over us:

A. God’s authority is a rightful authority.

God can do whatever He pleases, because He alone is God. He is the only self‑existent Being. All others, including Satan and all the angelic beings, are created and finite. God alone is uncreated and infinite. He spoke into being all that exists in the universe. All things serve His purposes. If He chooses to afflict a righteous man like Job as a demonstration of His glory to Satan, God doesn’t have to give an account or explanation to anybody (see Job 38‑42).

Can you imagine where Judah would have gotten if he had swaggered up to Joseph and said, “You can’t pull this kind of trick on us! We’ve got our rights! I’ll call my congressman!” And yet that’s how some people approach God, challenging His rightful authority over them.

B. God’s authority is an awesome authority.

Joseph was equal to Pharaoh. If he had given the word, he could have shipped these guys off to work on the pyramids or thrown them in a dungeon where they’d never see daylight again. He could have lopped off their heads. He could have refused to sell them grain and they would have gone home to watch their families slowly starve to death. Joseph had awesome power!

God has even greater authority over His creation. And just as Joseph’s brothers had sinned against him, so every person has sinned against God. None of us has a leg to stand on if we dare to challenge God’s awesome authority to do to us what He righteously could do. That’s why Jesus said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4‑5). Since God’s authority is a rightful and awesome authority,

C. Our submission must be a complete submission.

So often we’re like the little boy whose mother disciplined him by making him sit in a chair and he said, “I’m sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.” His submission wasn’t complete, because he had a defiant attitude. But it’s not enough to submit on the outside while you’re seething with resistance on the inside.

Judah could have approached Joseph with anger and self‑ justification. After all, Joseph had framed them by planting his cup in Benjamin’s sack. Judah could have said, “This isn’t fair! We didn’t steal this lousy cup and we didn’t put the money back in our sacks. We don’t want your help or your money. We just want fair treatment and then we’ll be on our way.”

That’s how a lot of people approach God. They take pride in their righteous conduct: “God doesn’t have a right to treat me this way! I haven’t stolen any cup. All I ask for is fair treatment.” They’re defiant, challenging God’s rightful authority over them. They’ve never come to the place of brokenness before God, where they have yielded completely to Him and said, “Lord, You alone are righteous and wise! You alone are the Creator and Sovereign of the universe! I am a guilty sinner, who has rebelled against You, and I yield to Your right to do to me as You please.”

Have you come to that place of total submission to God? I don’t mean that you deny your feelings. We’ve all had times when we’ve been angry at the Lord, and we shouldn’t pretend that we are not angry when we are. But at the same time, there is a right and wrong way to express anger to the Sovereign Lord! If one of my kids is angry at me, I don’t mind if they express their feelings as long as they are not defiant. But even if they have good cause to be angry at me, I won’t allow them to have a defiant spirit. So, check your attitude. You approach God in submission to His rightful, awesome authority over every area of your life.

2. Sinners approach God by owning up to their sin.

Judah doesn’t protest his or his brothers’ innocence or try to justify them in any way. He doesn’t offer any excuses or extenuating circumstances. Rather, he freely admits their guilt before God when he says, “God has found out the iniquity of your servants.” God always does, by the way.

Judah’s confession wasn’t just cheap talk. It’s easy to say, “I’m sorry,” but then to go on living just as you were. But there is an action on Judah’s part, a turning from past sin. Not only did he own up to it, he demonstrates throughout this appeal a change of heart, a willingness to live differently than he had before, even at great personal cost. That’s true repentance, when we not only confess our sin, but when we feel deeply enough about it that it results in a change in our attitudes, feelings, and behavior.

To appreciate what’s happening here you must remember where Judah is coming from. He probably had joined Simeon and Levi in slaughtering the Shechemites after Dinah’s rape. He’s the one who suggested selling Joseph rather than killing him. But he didn’t say that to spare Joseph’s life as much as he did to spare their consciences from murdering their own brother and to make a few bucks while getting rid of him. Judah stood there fingering his silver, unaffected as Joseph cried for help as the slave traders carried him off. Then Judah joined his brothers in deceiving their father into thinking that Joseph was dead and then in pretending to comfort him. Judah also took a pagan wife and had two sons who were so evil that the Lord killed them. Then he went in to his daughter‑in‑law, thinking she was a prostitute, as readily as we might pull into McDonald’s for a hamburger.

But now he’s a different man. The cocky man of Genesis 38 now humbles himself. The greedy man is willing to become a slave so that his brother can go free. The man who lived a sensual, pleasure‑oriented, self‑centered life now offers to deny himself any pleasure, any rights, any personal freedom, in exchange for his brother’s freedom. The man who had closed up his heart against his brother’s anguish and against his father’s grief says here that he cannot bear to see the pain that his father would go through if Benjamin did not return with them.

There are two ways you can tell that repentance is genuine: First, there will be the absence of any blame, except toward yourself. Judah could have blamed his father for this whole mess. Jacob still loved Benjamin more than Judah. If he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter so much that the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Jacob would have been sad, but it wouldn’t have been the catastrophe that losing Benjamin was. Judah could have bitterly blamed his father for the favoritism which now meant that he would have to become a slave. But there’s no blame here.

He could have blamed Joseph. In verse 31, Judah could have told this stern governor, “If Benjamin doesn’t return with us, you will bring the gray hair of our father down to the grave in sorrow. It will be your fault!” But instead, he admits that it will be his and his brothers’ fault. He could have blamed Benjamin: “You idiot, why did you have the cup in your sack? You’re crazy if you think that I’m going to pay for your crime.” But there’s no accusation of Benjamin. Judah could have blamed God: “Why are You letting this happen to us? We don’t deserve this!” But there’s no blame. That’s the first mark of genuine repentance, when a person says, “I have sinned. I take full responsibility for what I have done.”

The second mark of genuine repentance is that it always affects your relationships, both with God and with others. Judah here sees that God is behind all these circumstances: God put the money in his sack; God has found out his iniquity. This change in Judah’s relationship with God resulted in a change in his relationship with others. The bitterness toward his father and his father’s favorite sons is gone. Instead of hardness, there is tenderness and sensitivity as he thinks about how his father will feel if Benjamin doesn’t return home. If you have repented of your sin toward God, it will show in a change of heart toward those who have wronged you. Instead of bitterness, there will be a concern for their feelings and an absence of concern for your own feelings. Judah never complains about what will happen to him as a slave, because his focus is on what would happen to his father if Benjamin becomes a slave.

Judah’s appeal is encouraging because it shows us that change is possible when we are willing to own up to our sin with genuine repentance. Judah the hardened sinner becomes Judah the compassionate son and brother, willing to sacrifice the rest of his life, as far as he knew, on behalf of his father and brother. The key element in this change is Judah’s submission to God and his accepting full responsibility for his sin.

Do you want to change? Be careful before you quickly answer yes! There’s a high price tag, as you can see. Are you willing to give up the rest of your life to become a slave? Remember, Judah didn’t know the rest of the story yet. He didn’t know that his repentance would lead to great blessing, not to enslavement. If you want to change, then submit yourself to God and own up to your responsibility for your sin. Quit blaming others, even if they’re still sinning against you (Jacob still was sinning against Judah). Make sure that your repentance affects your relationships, so that you begin to deal with others with regard for their feelings, no matter what that means with regard to your own feelings. True repentance is the key to being a changed person.

There’s a third element in Judah’s appeal to Joseph which shows us how to approach God:

3. Sinners approach God by appealing to His compassion.

The first element is an attitude, submission to God’s authority; the second is an action, owning up to one’s sin; the third is an affection, or emotion, a heartfelt appeal to God’s compassionate nature. We miss the flavor of Judah’s appeal if we fail to see the deep feelings being expressed. It was logical, but it was also an impassioned plea. It shows us how we should approach God.

We should approach God with all our hearts. Judah’s whole address is shot through with feeling. He threw himself into it with a passion that left no doubt about his sincerity. He wanted Joseph to grant his appeal. He didn’t say, “You wouldn’t want to free my brother and take me as your slave, would you? ... No, I didn’t think so. Sorry, Benjamin.”

Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries martyred while attempting to take the gospel to the fierce Auca Indians in Ecuador, wrote in his journal at age 19 that he lacked the fervency, vitality, life in prayer which he longed for. He observed, “Cold prayers, like cold suitors, are seldom effective in their aims.” (Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan], p. 44.)

When we approach God, our hearts need to be in it. If, like me, you are often ho-hum about your prayers, you need to shake off the lethargy and ask God to remind you that eternal matters are at stake. God is sovereign, and yet, though I don’t totally understand it, He is pleased to respond to the heartfelt appeals of His children. As Jesus applied the parable of the woman who kept bugging the unjust judge, “Shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will bring about justice for them speedily” (Luke 18:7, 8).

Second, we should approach God with all our minds. Judah didn’t cast reason to the wind. While he was fervent, he was also logical. He had caught glimpses of this man’s compassion. The man had given the brothers many hints that he was just and reasonable. On their first trip, he had sent the nine home and only kept one in custody because he cared about them taking grain for their families. He had treated them kindly at the meal and had stuffed their sacks with grain and returned their money twice. Knowing this, Judah appeals to his heart by telling him what Benjamin’s slavery would mean to his aged father. And he bases his appeal on Joseph’s word that one of them would be his slave. Judah offers himself instead of Benjamin.

That’s how to approach God in prayer. Appeal to Him as a lawyer carefully sets forth his case. Argue your requests based on what you know of the character of God and His promises, as revealed in His Word. You know Him to be compassionate toward His children, promising not to withhold any good thing from them. You know that you can come to Him based on the merits of His Son. So come and present your case, casting yourself completely upon His grace.


A little boy had a sister who had the same disease that he had recovered from two years earlier. She needed a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease, and since both the boy and his sister had a rare blood type, he was the logical choice for donating his blood. The doctor asked the boy, “Would you give your blood to Mary?”

Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.”

Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room--Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned. But as the nurse inserted the needle in Johnny’s arm, his smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence. “Doctor, when do I die?”

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he’d agreed to donate his blood. He had thought that giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. He was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that she could live. (Leadership, winter, 1984, from Robert Coleman’s Written in Blood.)

Judah’s offer to become a slave in place of Benjamin was also a noble thing. But even so, Judah was guilty of great sin, so he could never say that he was getting something he didn’t deserve. But there is One who did something far greater than Judah on your behalf. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was without sin, and yet He offered Himself to take the penalty you and I deserve for our sin. He bore God’s wrath so that we who are sinners could go free. Have you accepted His loving offer on your behalf? It is the only way to approach God, because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). The only way we can approach God is by submitting to His authority over us, by owning up to our sin, and by appealing to His great compassion as demonstrated in the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. If we approach Him on that basis, He will never turn us away.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can a person who has been deeply hurt cultivate an attitude of submission to God? How can we root out bitterness?
  2. Are we ever justified to blame others for problems we face? Is it ever emotionally or spiritually healthy to blame? Why/why not?
  3. How can we repent if we don’t feel deep sorrow over our sin? Is sorrow necessary? How do we get it?
  4. How can a lukewarm Christian become fervent about spiritual things? How can we shake off spiritual lethargy?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Confession, Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 74: The Key To Reconciliation (Genesis 45:1-15)

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Whenever I go to the airport, I enjoy watching when passengers get off an arriving flight. I don’t know anything about the people or their relationships, except what I see there, but it’s always moving to watch people craning their necks for a glimpse of their loved ones. I overhear them saying to each other, “No, I don’t see him yet. No, he hasn’t gotten off yet.” Then suddenly, one of them exclaims, “There he is!” You’d think that the President himself was getting off that plane. If there are children waiting, they make a break through the crowd like a halfback who sees a hole in the line and they’re the first to reach Grandpa or Dad or whoever it is. Soon the whole family is embracing and exchanging greetings. Often there are tears of joy, as loved ones are reunited after a long separation. It’s a joy to watch. It’s the joy of relationships.

It is not an exaggeration to say that relationships are the most important thing in life, because the two greatest commandments in the Bible have to do with right relationships--first toward God and then toward one another. Whenever you see broken relationships toward God or in the family or in the church, you know that it is not pleasing to God. God is in the business of reconciling broken relationships.

There is perhaps nothing so moving as witnessing a fractured family being reconciled and reunited. That’s why Genesis 45 is such a moving chapter. We are allowed to look in on the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers after 22 years of separation and estrangement. After Judah’s impassioned plea on behalf of Benjamin and their father (44:18-34), Joseph saw that his brothers had truly repented of their terrible sin of selling him into slavery. So he let himself go in a torrent of emotion, telling his brothers through his tears, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” He knew that his dad was alive, but he wanted to hear it again, just to make sure.

Imagine the rush of confusion and horror which swept over Joseph’s brothers when they heard this Egyptian governor say, “I am Joseph.” Judah had just finished his appeal when the governor’s chest began to heave with emotion. The brothers wouldn’t have known whether he was angry or what. Then he shouted something in Egyptian and all his attendants rushed out of the room. Then this man broke into prolonged loud sobbing. The text compresses the story, but as you know, it takes several minutes for someone who is sobbing to calm down enough to talk.

Then, of all things, he spoke in Hebrew! Until now he had spoken only in Egyptian through an interpreter. For 22 years they had spread the rumor that Joseph was dead, to the point that they believed it themselves. To hear Joseph speak was like hearing a corpse talk. And to hear this powerful ruler now say, “I am Joseph,” after what they had done to him, their blood ran cold. The word translated “dismayed” (45:3) means to be terrified. It is used to describe the feeling which swept over a group of men in battle when suddenly the enemy turned on them and they realized they were doomed (Judges 20:41). Joseph’s brothers thought, “This is it! We’ve had it!” They were struck speechless. In fact, up to verse 15, Joseph does all the talking.

The brothers’ shock over who this man was could only have been increased by what he said. So far as they could tell, there was no anger or bitterness. They would have expected him to say, “You guys treated me like dirt. For 22 years I’ve been waiting for this moment. Now you’re going to get it.” But there was no hint of revenge. Instead, Joseph spoke kindly to them and showed every intention of treating them well. He promised to provide for them and their children through the coming years of famine. He finished by kissing not only Benjamin, who hadn’t been a part of their treachery against Joseph, but also each of his brothers, weeping on their shoulders. It must have blown them away. Finally, they were able to talk, and what a conversation it must have been!

Joseph shows us the key to being reconciled to those who have deeply hurt us, whether they are family members or friends:

The key to reconciliation is your attitude and the key to your attitude is submitting yourself to the sovereign God.

The remarkable thing about Joseph’s life was not his brilliance. It was not his administrative ability, although he was gifted there. It was his attitude, especially in response to unfair treatment. And the reason for his attitude was his relationship to the sovereign God.

1. The key to reconciliation is your attitude.

The right attitude is at the center of good relationships. As you think about people who are easy to get along with, are they grumpy, negative, angry, bitter, vindictive, sarcastic, touchy? Of course not. They’re pleasant, positive, relaxed, forgiving, kind, not quick to take offense or hold a grudge. These are attitudes. Reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers never would have taken place if Joseph had harbored a rotten attitude. His forgiving, kind, loving, caring, pleasant attitude, in spite of the horrible rejection and harsh treatment he had received from his brothers, opened the way for them now to be reconciled to him.

As hard a pill as it is to swallow, the key to being reconciled to a family member or friend from whom you are estranged lies in your attitude. I know what you are thinking: What about his or her attitude? I’ll talk about that in a moment. Obviously, at some point their attitude also has to change for reconciliation to be complete. But often the key to bringing them to change is when they see how you have responded to the wrong things they have done to you. Often it is the offended person, like Joseph here, who must take the initiative in reconciliation.

When someone wrongs you, you have some choices to make. You may not think so, since your initial response is usually visceral. Usually you feel angry. But after you cool down, you have some important choices to make. Many in Joseph’s situation would have allowed the hurt feelings to grow into a monster which dominated their lives. They would become angry, bitter, hostile people. If they ever met these rotten brothers again, they would be gunning for them. Or at best, they would never let them forget what they had done, and that they were the cause of the person’s own sufferings.

But there’s another choice: You can respond as Joseph did. It may have taken him some time to work through things. It usually does. But he didn’t stew about it for years. If he had, his bitter spirit would have precluded him from rising to the top in Potiphar’s household and in the prison. He must have dealt with his attitude early on. The sooner you get to work on it, the better, because the Bible calls bitterness a root (Heb. 12:15), and as you know, a root is easier to pull out when you don’t let it grow for years.

Joseph made a choice before God to forgive his brothers and to trust God to deal with them and to right the wrongs. To forgive means that you choose to absorb the pain and loss caused by the other person and they go free, even when they don’t deserve it. Forgiveness is costly for the one doing the forgiving. When God forgives our sins in Christ, it doesn’t mean that He brushes them aside. It means that Jesus Christ paid the penalty so that we could go free. Jesus said that just as God has forgiven us, so we must forgive others from our hearts (Matt. 18:21‑35).

So the key to reconciliation is your attitude. Ask God to give you His love and forgiveness toward the one who has wronged you. You’ve got to focus on your attitude, not on the other person’s behavior or attitude. It’s clear that Joseph had forgiven his brothers long before they came to a place of repentance.

You’re probably thinking, “But I don’t feel forgiving toward that person. If I’m honest with my feelings, I’d have to say that I want that person to pay for what he did to me. How can I have a forgiving attitude when I feel like inflicting revenge or at least praying that God would inflict revenge?” The key to reconciliation is your attitude. And,

2. The key to your attitude is submitting yourself to the sovereign God.

One of the most noticeable characteristics of Joseph throughout these chapters is the centrality of God in his life. This is such an important concept, if only we could grasp it in our daily lives. So often, even for Christians, God is a part of their lives, but He’s not at the center. He is a spoke in the wheel of life, but He’s not the hub. But for Joseph, everything centered on God.

When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he immediately thought of God: “How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?” (39:9). When Joseph was in the dungeon and the cupbearer and baker had their dreams, Joseph’s response was, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (40:8). When he was called before Pharaoh, who said, “I hear you can interpret dreams,” Joseph said, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (41:16). And in giving Pharaoh the interpretation, Joseph used God’s name four times to underscore to Pharaoh that it was God who was telling Pharaoh what was about to happen (41:25, 28, 32).

When Joseph’s wife bore him two sons, he gave them names which bore witness to God’s faithfulness. He named the first Manasseh, saying, “God has made me forget all my trouble ...”; and he named the second Ephraim, saying, “God has made me fruitful ...” (41:51, 52). When Joseph’s brothers came to buy grain, even though Joseph wanted to disguise himself from them, he could not hide his relationship with God. He told them, “Do this and live, for I fear God” (42:18). When they returned with Benjamin, Joseph, still disguising himself, said to his brother, “May God be gracious to you, my son” (43:29). Joseph’s steward had told the worried brothers concerning the money returned to their sacks, “Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks” (43:23). Obviously, Joseph had told the steward to say that.

At the end of Genesis, when Joseph’s brothers feared that he would pay them back now that their father was dead, he replied, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (50:19, 20). Just before his death, Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (50:24, 25).

From the first to the last, the sovereign God was at the center of Joseph’s life. Notice this emphasis in our text: “... for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5); “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth” (45:7); “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh ...” (45:8); “Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt”’“ (45:9).

Some have wondered if Joseph’s telling his father of his splendor in Egypt was pride on Joseph’s part. But in light of his relationship to God, I think not. Rather, by emphasizing his position and wealth, Joseph was trying to get his brothers and father to see that God had worked everything out right, so that they would trust in God and be reconciled to one another. And, he wanted Jacob to hear of his circumstances so that he would praise God for His ways, which had worked together for good. That’s why God is the subject of Joseph’s first sentence to his father (45:9). He wanted his father to know what God had done.

There are two practical lessons for us which flow from Joseph’s relationship to God:

(1) You must learn to relate God to every event in your life, whether good or seemingly bad. Joseph had some things happen to him which were very unfair and unpleasant at the time. He went, in obedience to his father, to find out the welfare of his brothers, only to have them sell him into slavery. He resisted Potiphar’s wife and maintained his moral purity only to be falsely accused and thrown in prison. He was kind and sensitive toward the cupbearer and baker in interpreting their dreams, only to have the cupbearer forget him for the next two years. And yet Joseph related God to all these unfair events.

To do this, you’ve got to look past what seem to be the primary causes, to God who is really the primary cause. It looks like somebody mistreated you; but really, it is God disciplining you as a loving father disciplines his child. The apostle Paul did this. To all outward appearances, it looked like he was a prisoner of Caesar. But he never referred to himself that way. Rather, it was always, “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” Yes, Rome had wrongly thrown Paul in prison; but it wasn’t Rome‑‑it was the Lord! Even if it’s Satan who is causing you problems (which is relatively rare), he can’t do anything which God hasn’t allowed him to do. God’s purpose in all the things which seem to be against you is to bring ultimate glory to Himself and good to you as you trust Him. That leads to the second lesson. Once you see that God is related to every event, then ...

(2) You must submit to God’s sovereignty in every event in your life. This is a matter of the heart, where you trust that He is good and that He is in control, even when it seems otherwise. Your only other option is to believe that what happens is a matter of chance. That’s the evolutionist’s explanation for life: We’re here as the product of chance plus time. Maybe we can pull some of our own strings to improve our lot, but some things are just due to chance. But many Christians, who would deny evolution, live as if it were true when they complain about trials as if they’ve been dealt a bad hand in the game of life. When things go wrong, they don’t stop to acknowledge that God is dealing with them and to submit to His sovereignty.

I’m not talking about a blind resignation to events, where we blame God for our own irresponsibility. We are responsible for our actions, and yet God is sovereign over all and we must submit to Him. Each person is responsible for his own sin, and yet God overrules even the sinful things people do and uses them to accomplish His purpose. When you submit to God’s ultimate sovereignty, you can say with Joseph, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” The key to reconciliation with those who have hurt you is your attitude, and the key to your attitude is relating every event in your life to God and submitting to His loving sovereignty in those events.

I still haven’t answered the question, “What about those who have wronged me? Don’t they need to change? Can there be true reconciliation if they don’t repent?” For there to be complete reconciliation, all parties concerned must come under the lordship of Jesus Christ. If Joseph’s brothers had refused to repent of their sinful ways, there could only have been a strained truce, at best. We live in a sinful world, where God has given people freedom of choice. Sometimes, in spite of our having the right attitude and being rightly related to God, those who have wronged us continue in their sinful ways. Not every relationship will work out neatly or quickly. But when it does, it’s worth all the time and effort expended to make it right.

But whether it works out or not, we each are responsible for our own attitude before God. When my attitude is right and God is the center of my life, often it will motivate the one who wronged me to deal with his sin before God. When he sees that I harbor no resentment or bitterness for what he did to me, often he will be drawn to the God who has given me such grace. Assuming you have a right attitude before God, I conclude by giving two action points on how to deal with the one who has wronged you.


1. Express your forgiving, loving spirit, first nonverbally, then verbally, at the proper time. Joseph forgave his brothers in his heart long before he expressed it to them. He waited to see their repentance before extending forgiveness, but he didn’t wait to deal with his bitterness and to forgive them in his heart. That’s an important distinction! God has made provision for the forgiveness of sinners before they repent. But He doesn’t extend forgiveness to them, and there can be no reconciliation between God and the sinner, until the sinner repents. Since we are to forgive as God has forgiven us, it seems to me that we must maintain that distinction.

So what do we do until the other person repents? Do we sit with our arms folded, thinking, “When he comes crawling to me, begging for forgiveness, I’ll do it, but not until then!” If that’s your attitude, you haven’t forgiven the person as God wants you to. If you’ve forgiven him, you won’t make him pay, because you absorb the cost of his wrong. If you’ve forgiven him, you won’t be hoping he gets zapped, but you’ll be praying and earnestly desiring that he will come into a right relationship with God. You’ll have the joy and peace of Christ in your heart, and you’ll want the same for him.

So what do you do while you wait for him to repent? Are you ready for this? You look for opportunities to do kind things for him. Remember, it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:35). Just as Joseph was kind to his brothers by returning their money, stuffing their sacks with extra grain, feeding them, talking kindly to them, and now, promising to provide for them and their families, so we must do kind things for those who have wronged us.

Josephine Ligon (“Your Daffodils are Pretty,” Christianity Today [3/2/79], p.18) tells of a family named Parsons in the town where she grew up who preached and practiced forgiveness. Once Josephine and several of her third grade friends put a handful of pencil shavings into the Parsons girl’s sandwich, just to be mean and to make her mad. But she didn’t get mad. Instead, the next day, without any sign of repentance from her persecutors, the Parsons girl brought everyone in the class a large, delicious, hand‑decorated cookie which said, “Jesus loves you.” Over 40 years later Josephine Ligon still remembered that demonstration of forgiveness more than any sermon.

When the time is right and the person seems to be sorry for what he’s done, express your forgiveness verbally. You need to do it privately, as Joseph did. You shouldn’t paper over the offense or pretend that it wasn’t serious. Twice Joseph states their crime of selling him (45:4, 5). But his focus wasn’t on their crime, but on how God overruled things. He wanted to help his brothers trust in the sovereign God who can even use our past sinfulness for His glory.

Also, express your feelings, not just words. Joseph openly wept and he hugged and kissed each of his brothers (45:14, 15). People need to feel that they’re forgiven, not just to hear it.

2. As God gives opportunity, help the estranged ones to see God’s perspective. Joseph explains to his brothers how God was at work in this whole process (45:5‑8). If he had explained things earlier, they would not have been teachable, but now they are ready to listen. This may involve more pain for you as you wait for God to deal with them. While Joseph waited for God to deal with his brothers, he also waited to see his father, which he badly wanted to do. Like Joseph, you may have to wait for years before the person comes to repentance or before there can be a face to face meeting. But then, when God works it out, you can help him to interpret the past events from God’s perspective.

You may even have the joy of leading the one who wronged you to personal faith in Jesus Christ. The good news is that though we all have wronged God, through Christ’s death on the cross He paid the penalty we deserved. As you model His love and forgiveness, it could open the door for the one who wronged you to experience God’s forgiveness, which is his greatest need. God has given to us “the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18‑19). If you will deal with your attitude by forgiving those who have wronged you and by submitting yourself to the sovereign God’s dealings with you, He will use you as His agent of reconciliation to those who have wronged you. And you will know the joy of restored, loving, God-centered relationships.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we forgive when we don’t feel forgiving? How can forgiveness move from the mental to the emotional level?
  2. While we should be quick to forgive in our hearts, the act of extending that forgiveness verbally should be delayed until there is evidence of repentance. Agree/disagree?
  3. Is it hypocritical to do something kind for someone who wronged you if you don’t feel loving toward them?
  4. Does God’s ultimate sovereignty make Him responsible for sin? Does it mean that sinners can excuse their wrongdoing?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship, Fellowship, Relationships

Lesson 75: God’s Abundant Provision (Genesis 45:16-28)

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It has been rightly observed that heresy is often truth out of balance. A person can take a legitimate biblical truth and emphasize it so much that he ignores other biblical truths that balance it. For example, a popular author and Bible teacher emphasizes the truth that we are saints, but he takes it to the extreme of saying that we are not to see ourselves as sinners, not even as sinners saved by grace, but only as saints who occasionally sin. That’s truth out of balance.

Another doctrine that has been pushed out of balance is the truth that God provides abundantly for His people. It is a precious truth, taught throughout the Bible. But certain men have taken that teaching and combined it with greed and materialism so that they teach that wealth is the God‑given right of every believer. This has been called the “health and wealth” teaching, because they also teach that it is always God’s will to heal. It is also referred to as the “name it and claim it” teaching, because they say that all we must do is name what we want and claim it by faith and it’s ours. If we lack some material blessing or if we suffer from sickness, it’s because we have not claimed it by faith. All you have to do is read your Bible to see that this teaching is in error. Some of God’s greatest men of faith were destitute and suffered from sickness (Heb. 11:35‑38; Phil. 2:25‑27; 2 Tim. 4:20). They all died, as do those who teach this false doctrine.

But the pendulum can swing to the other extreme. Whenever there is a false teaching, there is the danger that we will overreact by neglecting the true doctrine which has been carried to an extreme. For example, when heretics emphasize the humanity of Jesus to the point of denying His deity, there is the danger that we won’t teach about His humanity at all, for fear of falling into their error. When false teachers say that health and prosperity are the divine right of every Christian, there is the danger that we will neglect the comforting truth that God does provide, not just the minimum, but as Paul expresses it, “exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).

Genesis 45:16‑28 shows us God’s abundant provision for His people. God provides for Jacob and his sons far beyond what they had ever dreamed. Jacob had reluctantly sent his sons down to Egypt to buy more grain so that their families could survive the famine. He hoped that his beloved son Benjamin would return safely to him and that his son Simeon would be released by the stern Egyptian governor. He hoped that this man would accept the returned money which his sons brought back from their first trip and the extra money they took, and sell them more grain. That was the limit of his hopes. He would have been a happy man if these things had happened.

So the old man sent his sons off with the sigh, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (43:14). A week went by, and Jacob thought, “They should be in Egypt by today. Two weeks, and he thought, “They should have completed their business and be headed home by now.” A few more days went by, and he sent one of his grandsons to watch from the hilltop nearby for any sign of them on the horizon. Nothing yet. And then one day, the boy came running out of breath with the news, “Grandpa, I think they’re coming!”

The old man rose to his feet and took his staff in one hand, leaning on his grandson with his other, and hobbled to the dusty road. In the distance, he could see the cloud of dust, but he couldn’t see well enough to count how many were in the party. “Can you count them, son? How many are there?” “I can count eleven, Grandpa.” “Eleven! Then Benjamin and Simeon must be with them!” “And there are a bunch of carts, Grandpa, and a herd of donkeys besides.” Jacob’s face fell. “Oh, then it must not be them, because they didn’t leave with any carts or with extra donkeys.”

But it was them! Benjamin and Simeon were there. They had come back with all their original money, with not just a little grain, but with carts full of provisions. As they came closer, Jacob could see that each of them was wearing fine new clothes. And then came the most stunning news of all, which Jacob couldn’t even believe at first: “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” It shows how

God graciously provides exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.

There are four lessons here about how God provides:

1. God provides abundantly for all our needs.

As our loving Heavenly Father, God knows and abundantly provides for all our needs‑‑material, emotional, and spiritual.

A. God provides abundantly for our material needs.

To get the flavor of this story, you need to put yourself into the Canaanite culture of Jacob’s day. When you think of a wagon or cart, you probably associate it with poverty. You may imagine some poor peasant farmer taking his produce to market on a rickety old wooden wagon, drawn by a donkey. But that’s the wrong image.

In Jacob’s day, no one in Canaan had carts. You traveled by loading your donkey or camel and walking beside it. And these weren’t just common old carts. These carts were provided by Pharaoh. They were the top of the line, right off the showroom floor. They were probably elaborately carved and painted, fit for a king. For Jacob’s sons to arrive back in Canaan with all these carts loaded with provisions would be like driving into a poor Mexican village in a fleet of limousines. Jacob’s first thought must have been that his sons had knocked off another village.

But there weren’t just all these wagons. There were the clothes. These guys had left in poor shepherds’ clothing. They returned in the latest Egyptian designer apparel. Each brother had at least two changes of clothes, and Benjamin had five, plus 300 pieces of silver (45:22). In addition there were ten male donkeys for Jacob, loaded with the best things of Egypt, plus ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and sustenance. Remember, this was in a time of famine! The neighbors’ eyes must have bulged out as they saw these brothers pull in.

We do not have a “divine right” to prosperity, as some have falsely taught. But neither do we need to feel guilty about the material things God provides for us. We should hold these things lightly, remembering that they belong to God, not to us. We’re just managers for Him, not owners. To whom much is given, much shall be required (Luke 12:48). We need to be careful “not to be conceited or to fix [our] hopes on the uncertainty of riches,” and, “to be generous and ready to share,” storing up treasure in heaven. But when God blesses us materially we can thankfully enjoy the things He has richly supplied (1 Tim. 6:17‑19).

B. God provides abundantly for our emotional needs.

Jacob was emotionally needy. He had lost his favorite son, or so he thought. For over 20 years he had grieved for Joseph. Now he feared that he might lose his other sons, especially Rachel’s other son, Benjamin. His beloved Rachel had died in childbirth with Benjamin, leaving a gaping hole in Jacob’s life. Jacob and the other sons didn’t have a close relationship. A number of things between them over the years had caused tension. He had always suspected that they knew more than they had told about Joseph’s disappearance.

But now they came back as different men. God had broken them through their dealings with Joseph. They had confessed their sin before God and had been reconciled to their brother. And now, in explaining that Joseph was still alive and the ruler of Egypt, they would have to admit their sin to their father. The truth had to come out. And so, although the text does not report it, there must have been a healing of the relationship between Jacob and his formerly treacherous sons. And what emotional healing must have come when Jacob heard and finally believed the news that Joseph was really alive! To see his son once more became his only goal before he died (45:28).

Just as God provided for Jacob’s emotional needs, so He provides for us. He wants us to be emotionally whole. He doesn’t always do it instantly or when we think He should. He often does it by bringing healing to relationships with family members and others who have hurt us. But even if they never respond, the Lord teaches us how to forgive and to have our emotional needs met in Him. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) describes an emotionally whole person. Fruit takes time to grow, but every believer who walks in the Spirit is promised that fruit of emotional wholeness.

C. God provides abundantly for our spiritual needs.

God’s ultimate goal is always spiritual. He always has a spiritual reason behind any material blessings He supplies or withholds. In this case, His chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, who were to be His channel for blessing all nations, were in danger of being polluted by the corrupt Canaanites. God had even prophesied to Abraham that his descendants would become strangers and slaves for 400 years in a land that was not theirs, until the iniquity of the Amorite was complete (15:13‑16). So this famine and the move to Egypt‑‑seemingly ordinary circumstances‑‑worked out God’s spiritual purposes for His people which He had spoken of almost 200 years before.

Things don’t just “happen” to you. God is shaping you to be His channel to convey His blessings to lost people. To do that, He has provided abundantly in Christ for all of your spiritual needs, even when you’re not aware of them. I’m sure that neither Jacob nor his sons could see God’s reasons for removing them from Canaan at this time. Israel as a nation in slavery in Egypt for the next 400 years probably often wondered why God was allowing that trial if they were His chosen people. But God knew that they needed it to be shaped into a people for His own possession, a light to the Gentiles. In the same way, God works through trials to mature us spiritually.

God provides abundantly for all our needs‑‑material, emotional, and spiritual. But some of you may be thinking, “That’s a nice sermon, to say that God provides abundantly for all my needs. But to be honest, He hasn’t done that for me. I’m in need of more income. I’m emotionally needy. Spiritually, I don’t feel close to God. So how can you say that God provides abundantly for all our needs?” That leads to a second lesson about His provision:

2. God provides for our needs in His timing, not ours.

The day before Jacob’s sons returned from Egypt with their wagons loaded with provisions, with a new walk with God, and with the great news about Joseph, Jacob had been a lonely, grieving, almost destitute old man. He had seen his sons off thinking, “I may never see them again.” Jacob wondered if those who remained behind might starve. He was at a point of despair when his sons returned with their good news. The word “revived,” used to describe Jacob when he finally accepted the good news about Joseph (45:27), is translated in the Greek Old Testament by a word that is used elsewhere of stirring up dying embers which have almost been extinguished under the ashes. Jacob’s spirit was almost extinguished when his sons came back with their message of hope.

That’s how God often works. He lets us come to the point of lowest despair, where we are beginning to wonder, “What happened to God?” Then He comes through. Right at the time Jacob was complaining, “All these things are against me” (42:36), God was working all these things together for good for him.

Shortly after Dallas Seminary was founded in 1924, it came to the brink of bankruptcy. The creditors were going to foreclose at noon on a certain day. That morning the founders of the school met in the president’s office to pray that God would provide. One of the men present at that meeting was the well-known Bible teacher, Harry Ironside. When it was his turn to pray, he prayed, “Lord, we know that the cattle on a thousand hills are Thine. Please sell some of them and send us the money.”

While they were praying, a Texas rancher strode into the business office and said, “I just sold two carloads of cattle in Fort Worth. I’ve been trying to make a business deal go through, but it won’t work. I feel that God is compelling me to give this money to the seminary. I don’t know if you need it or not, but here’s the check.” The secretary knew how critical the need was, so she took the check and knocked on the door of the president’s office. Dr. Chafer took the check and saw that it was for the exact amount of the debt. When he looked at the signature on the check, he recognized the name of the Fort Worth cattleman. Turning to Dr. Ironside, he said, “Harry, God just sold the cattle.” (Told by Howard Hendricks, Elijah [Moody Press], pp. 19, 20).

Why does God so often take us right to the brink? One reason is that we often don’t recognize our total need for Him until we are in such desperate straights. At that point, we know that if He doesn’t come through, we’re doomed. So we trust Him more than we do when we’ve got our own resources to fall back on. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians of a time when he was burdened excessively, beyond his strength, so that he despaired even of life. Why did God let Paul get so low? Paul explains, “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8, 9). God abundantly provides for our every need, but He doesn’t necessarily do it just when we think He should. He does it in His timing, often letting us come to the very edge, so that we will learn to trust in Him.

There’s a third lesson about God’s provision:

3. God provides in ways we would never expect.

For Jacob’s sons to return with these fancy wagons, loaded to the hilt with all the finest things of Egypt, and then to be provided for by this foreign king, given the best of his land‑‑it was beyond imagination! But the last thing in the world Jacob expected to hear was that Joseph was alive, let alone that he was the ruler of all Egypt. Never in his wildest dreams did Jacob expect that. But as a loving Father, God delights to surprise His children in ways they never would expect.

The best gifts are usually the unexpected ones, aren’t they? At Christmas, I like to wrap the gifts I buy for Marla and the kids in boxes that don’t fit the gift, so that they can’t guess what it is. Sometimes I add something heavy to the package to throw off their guesses. I write mysterious clues on the label. It’s more fun when they are surprised and, hopefully, delighted by the gift.

I’m just an earthly father, and my resources and creativity are limited. But Our Heavenly Father has infinite resources and unlimited creativity. You can’t usually guess how God is going to work, because He delights to provide in ways we never would expect, so that we will revel in His abundant goodness. God provides abundantly, in His timing, in ways we never would expect. The final lesson is,

4. God provides for us through grace, not through merit.

Why did Pharaoh provide so abundantly for Jacob and his eleven sons? It certainly wasn’t because they were wonderful guys. If Pharaoh knew anything about them, he knew that they had sold their brother into slavery. Joseph may have protected them by not telling Pharaoh exactly what had happened to him. But even so, Pharaoh knew that these men were a bunch of Hebrews from the sticks. There was nothing in them which commended Pharaoh’s favor.

So why did he treat them with such abundant kindness? It was for Joseph’s sake. Pharaoh knew and appreciated Joseph, so he poured out these blessings on Joseph’s family for his sake. If anything, Jacob should not have been blessed because of his doubting, negative attitude. Jacob’s sons should not have been blessed because of the way they had treated their brother and their father. But they were blessed anyway, apart from any merit on their part, because of their relationship with Joseph. God even took their act of sin, selling their own brother into slavery, and made it the means of their deliverance from the famine.

You can see the parallel, can’t you? God doesn’t bless us because we’re such deserving people. He blesses us because of His Son, Jesus. If we’re in Him, then we’ve got connections in high places! He provides blessings for us often when we haven’t been trusting Him as we should. He blesses us sometimes even when we haven’t obeyed Him as we should. Why? Because of our relationship with Jesus. God even took our sin, which sent Jesus to the cross, and used it as the means of our salvation. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20)!


A few years ago some tourists from a remote, undeveloped Middle Eastern desert country visited a large American city. One thing that impressed them in their hotel was the seemingly endless supply of good water that flowed from the faucets. Where they came from, water was scarce and expensive, so to be able to turn on a tap and have all you wanted was quite a luxury. When it came time for them to go, they were found with wrenches in their hands, prepared to remove the taps and take them back to the desert with them. They thought that if they could just get those faucets back to the desert, all their water problems would be solved. They didn’t realize that faucets are useless unless they are connected to an abundant source of water.

In Jesus Christ, God has provided all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Just as Joseph went into the dungeon and was then raised up to Pharaoh’s right hand to save his brothers, so Jesus went into the grave itself, but was raised up and seated at the Father’s right hand to save you from God’s judgment. Jesus is God’s greatest gift to you: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). All the promises of God are yes in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). If you’ll trust Jesus as Savior and Lord, you’ll find that He is the way to God’s abundant supply for your every need.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it wrong to enjoy the material things God gives us when there are such great needs in the world?
  2. Is it too simplistic to say that a Christian can have deep emotional needs met in Christ apart from psychological counseling?
  3. Benjamin received more than his brothers. Must God deal equally with His children? If not, is He unfair? Why not?
  4. How do we explain His abundant provision to a person who seemingly didn’t receive it when he needed it?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship, Establish, Grace

Lesson 76: Experiencing God’s Provision (Genesis 45:16-28)

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An old woodsman decided to go modern and buy his first chain saw. He had used an axe all his life, but he kept hearing that these chain saws could cut a cord of wood in a fraction of the time he could do it with his axe. So he went to the store and bought the top model.

But a few days later he came back and complained to the sales clerk that his saw wasn’t any good. He said, “I can cut more wood with my axe than I can with this thing.” The clerk looked the saw over carefully. He checked the oil level, he examined the chain to make sure it was secure, he looked at the spark plug. Everything seemed okay, so he pulled the starter cord and the saw roared to life. The old woodsman jumped back in alarm and exclaimed, “What’s that noise?”

The old woodsman had all the power he needed in that saw, but he couldn’t use it because he didn’t realize that it was available and he didn’t know how to use it. Many Christians are like that. God has provided “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3), but they don’t experience it because of hindrances in their lives.

Perhaps some of you desperately need something from the Lord. It may be a financial need, a physical need, a need for healing in some relationship, or a spiritual need. God may have withheld it simply because it is not His time or because He knows that ultimately it would not be good for you. He may want you to learn His sufficiency in your weakness. But He may not be providing it because something in your life is blocking it.

As we saw in our last study, Genesis 45:16‑28 is a beautiful illustration of God’s abundant provision for His people. Through Joseph, God provided abundantly beyond what Jacob and his other sons ever could have expected. We saw how God provided for all their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, in His timing, not theirs, in ways they never would have expected, and through grace, not through merit. I want to look at these verses again to point out some things that could have hindered Jacob and his sons from experiencing God’s provision through Joseph and to see how we can experience God’s abundant provision for us in Christ.

To experience God’s provision, we must remove any hindrances and look beyond the gifts to the Giver.

1. To experience God’s provision, we must remove any hindrances.

Our text reveals five hindrances that can keep us from experiencing God’s provision:

A. Quarreling can hinder us from experiencing God’s provision.

As his brothers are about to depart, Joseph warns them, “Do not quarrel on the journey” (45:24). Why would Joseph say this to his brothers? Because he knew them and he knew human nature. These men had become instantly rich. They went down to Egypt as shepherds, hoping to buy enough bread to survive the famine. They returned with wagon loads of provisions, dressed in the finest clothes of Egypt, with the promise of all they needed for the future.

Whenever people get money, they can easily get greedy, especially when one gets more than another. Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother, received five changes of clothes and 300 pieces of silver. The other brothers easily could have said, “This isn’t fair. Let’s kill Benjamin and take his things for ourselves.” Or they could have pressured Benjamin into dividing his things among them. Quarreling on the way home was a danger that could have resulted in their never returning to experience all that Joseph had to give them.

Even though Joseph’s admonition strikes us as humorous, there is a warning here for us who are brothers and sisters in the Lord. It’s easy to envy the possessions or the situation in life of other Christians who have more than we have. It can lead to quarrels and block us from experiencing what God wants to give us.

Often such quarrels are between family members, as was the danger here. Childhood sibling rivalry carries over into adult life. Just watch a family scramble for their share of the inheritance when the parents die. There are brothers and sisters who don’t even talk to one another for years because they’re angry about who got what after their parents died.

I chuckle when I read Luke 12:13-15, where a man in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” I would think that Jesus, being fair, would have said, “Bring the scoundrel to me,” and would have rebuked him for his greed. But instead, Jesus said to the man with the complaint, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” And then He pointedly warned him and the whole crowd, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” It wasn’t just the brother who grabbed the inheritance who had a problem with greed. The brother who wanted his fair share also was greedy, and it led to this ongoing quarrel. Quarreling, especially because we’re greedy, can hinder us from experiencing God’s provision.

B. Guilt can hinder us from experiencing God’s provision.

When Joseph told his brothers to go home and tell his father about his splendor in Egypt and to bring him and all their households down there, it meant that they would have to admit to their father how they sold Joseph into slavery and deceived Jacob all these years. This also could have led to quarreling on the way home, as Reuben could have said, “I told you not to do it” (42:22), and Judah said, “Remember, I’m the guy who saved Joseph’s life when the rest of you wanted to kill him.”

What if the brothers had decided, “We can’t tell dad the truth about Joseph”? What if they had not been willing to admit their sin to their father? They would have missed all that Joseph wanted to provide for them in Egypt. Experiencing Joseph’s provision hinged on their willingness to confess their sin. Otherwise, their guilt would have hindered them from the many good things Joseph wanted to give them.

In the same way, guilt can keep us from experiencing what God has provided for us in Christ. When you’ve wronged someone and feel guilty, do you want to be around them? Of course not! If you see them coming, you duck the other way and hope that they didn’t see you. And if you feel that way toward God, you try to hide from Him, like Adam and Eve in the garden. But you can’t receive what God wants to give you when you’re hiding from Him. The only way to experience His abundant blessings is to confess all your sin, knowing that He is faithful and righteous to forgive your sin, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

C. Doubt can hinder us from experiencing God’s provision.

Jacob’s sons returned home and said, “Joseph is alive and is ruler of all Egypt!” And Jacob said, “Praise God! That’s great news!” No, Jacob “was stunned, for he did not believe them” (45:26). I can understand why the old man would be inclined to doubt them. After all, Jacob’s sons didn’t have a great track record for honesty. But what if Jacob had continued to doubt them? What if he had said, “You’re up to no good, as usual! You know that Joseph died over 20 years ago, and now you expect me to believe that he is alive and well?” If Jacob had continued to doubt, he would have missed God’s abundant provision through Joseph.

Apart from the previous unreliability of Jacob’s sons, why did he doubt their words? There are three reasons. (I’m indebted here to Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible [Zondervan, 1956], 1:292‑294.)

First, Jacob doubted his sons because what they said was contrary to everything he had believed for the past 22 years. For all those years he had thought, “Joseph is dead ... Joseph is dead.” The news, Joseph is alive didn’t fit into his grid. He had programmed himself to think in a certain way, so he couldn’t accept this contrary idea as true.

Isn’t that just like some people who reject the gospel? For years they have believed a set of false propositions concerning God and the Bible. They have thought, “The Bible is just a bunch of myths. Science tells us that evolution is true. How can anyone believe in miracles?” They have believed this way for so long that these things have become fixed assumptions in their minds. So when a Christian comes along and says, “There is a God who created the universe and you can know Him through the risen Lord Jesus Christ,” they scoff. What they’re really saying is, “It can’t be true, because I have believed differently for so long.”

Second, Jacob doubted his sons’ report because it sounded too good to be true. Joseph alive? That would have been the best thing Jacob could have imagined. But after all, this is the real world, not a fairy story. Everyone doesn’t live happily ever after in real life. Joseph had died; how could he possibly be alive, let alone be ruler of Egypt? In spite of all the evidence to the contrary (which we’ll consider in a moment), Jacob couldn’t believe it. It was just too good to be true!

Many reject the gospel for the same reason. It’s just too good to be true. If you tell people that the way to God is to try harder and resolve to be a better person, so that through determination and good works, you’ll get to heaven, they’ll believe you. That’s what every cult teaches, and people flock to them. But if you say, “God has provided everything through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. All you can do is come to God just as you are and accept the free gift of eternal life He offers you,” people say, “It can’t be! That’s just too good to be true.”

But it is true! The good news is that Christ died for our sins. He paid the penalty we deserve. God has done it all. No matter how great your sins, all you can do is come to Christ just as you are and receive His forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift.

The third reason for Jacob’s doubt was his tendency to believe the bad news above the good news. Jacob, the perpetual pessimist, was more inclined to believe that all these things were against him than to believe that God was for him. When he sent his sons to Egypt, he was sure that he would never see any of them again. He was always looking for and believing the worst case scenario.

Some of us are more inclined to pessimism than others. But pessimism isn’t compatible with faith in our good God. We put up our umbrellas of gloom to block out His sunshine and then complain about how shady it is! Satan’s original strategy with Eve was to get her to doubt the goodness of God. He still uses that ploy to keep many from experiencing all that God has for them.

D. Difficulties can hinder us from experiencing God’s provision.

Jacob was an old man. There were no commuter flights or even paved roads between Canaan and Egypt. To make this move to Egypt with all his household was a major thing for a man Jacob’s age. It meant a new, threatening living situation in a foreign country. There were all his belongings to pack and transport. There was a lot of uncertainty, risk, inconvenience, and hardship involved in this move. But if Jacob had allowed these difficulties to hinder him, he would have missed all that Joseph wanted to provide.

Change isn’t easy, especially the older we get. It’s easier to stay set in our ways, enjoying our familiar surroundings. But we can miss the blessings God wants to give us because we refuse to go through the difficulties involved in changing ourselves or our geographic location. If God says, “Go to the mission field” and I say, “Lord, I’m too old. It’s too hard for me to change at this point in life,” I’ll not experience His full provision for my life.

Sometimes our possessions become a difficulty in disguise which keep us from experiencing God’s better provision. The King James Bible translates verse 20, “Regard not your stuff.” Pharaoh is telling Jacob’s brothers not to worry about bringing all their things, since he will provide them with the best of the land.

Suppose God says to me, “I want you to go serve Me in China” and I reply, “But, God, I can’t do that. What would I do with all my stuff?” My stuff would be keeping me from God’s will for my life, which would hinder me from experiencing His abundant provision. I never want to be so tied to my stuff that it keeps me from obeying God. Sell the stuff! If God wants me in China, I’d be happier there without all my stuff than I would be in America with it. Finally,

E. Despair can hinder us from experiencing God’s provision.

Jacob was at a low point when the news of Joseph reached him. He had sent his sons off with the fatalistic comment, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (43:14). As far as Jacob was concerned, Joseph was dead, Simeon was probably dead, and he may never see Benjamin again. In fact, the others may never return and he and the rest of the family might starve to death. As I said last week, the word used to translate “revived” (45:27) in the Greek Old Testament is used of stirring up dying embers which are almost extinguished. Jacob’s spirit was almost gone. But if he had persisted in his despair, he would have missed God’s provision through Joseph.

I realize that some people are more prone to depression because of their brain chemistry. They may need medical help. But I’m convinced that much depression is due to wrong thinking about the things that happen to us in life. When disappointing things happen to us, we have a choice about how we process it. We can think the worst, that God has forgotten us, that everything is against us. Or, we can choose to believe God. We can look at the evidence of His faithfulness and we can look to the Lord Himself and say, “It is not true that God has forgotten me. He cares about me.” Thinking those thoughts, we then can seek the Lord and we will experience all that He wants to give us.

Jacob did that here. He heard the testimony of his sons. He heard what Joseph had said. He looked at the gifts which Joseph had sent. And his spirit revived, so that his consuming purpose in life now was to go and see Joseph. In the same way, once we have dealt with the hindrances of quarreling, guilt, doubt, difficulties, and despair,

2. To experience God’s provision, we must look beyond the gifts to the Giver.

A. Look to the evidence of His faithfulness.

What changed Jacob’s despair into hope? Three things: First, he heard the eyewitness testimony of his sons (45:26); then, he heard the words of Joseph (45:27); finally, he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him (45:27). Those tangible evidences changed Jacob’s doubt to faith, so that he was able to experience the abundance which Joseph wanted to provide for him.

Perhaps today you’re doubting God. Circumstances have overwhelmed you with despair. You say, “I’d like to believe what you say, that God wants to provide for all my needs. But so many terrible things have happened to me. I just can’t believe in God.” But God offers you the same evidence of His faithfulness which He gave to Jacob.

First, there is the eyewitness testimony of those who were with the risen Savior. The apostle John was one of them. He wrote (1 John 1:1‑4):

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life‑‑and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us‑‑what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

John and the other New Testament writers were intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ. They saw Him and spent time with Him after His resurrection. You can believe what they tell you. But maybe, like Jacob with his sons, you have trouble believing at this level.

Then look to the second level: The words of Jesus Himself. Jacob’s sons reported to him all that Joseph said. They told how Joseph recounted the providence of God in all that had happened to him. They related the kind words which Joseph had spoken of his father. As Jacob heard these things, he thought, “That sounds just like Joseph.” The words had the ring of truth.

The New Testament, especially the Gospels, report to us many of the words of Jesus. Read them and see if they don’t have the ring of truth. Surely, no one could invent such a character in fiction. Jesus tells us about God as One who had been with the Father. He speaks wise words of grace and truth which penetrate to the very core issues of life. If you are doubting God, read the words of Jesus.

Third, there are the visible evidences of Christ’s faithfulness to you. After Jacob heard his sons and the words of Joseph, he saw the wagons full of provisions (45:27). And if you will look, you will see abundant evidence of God’s care for you. Look at your possessions. You have food and clothing, plus many luxuries. Look at the family and friends He has given you. If you say, “But my family has rejected me and treated me terribly,” I say to you, “Look around this church. Here is your family, brothers and sisters who love you and care for you.”

Look at your health. Perhaps you are ill or even dying. But God has given you life for these years. Life itself is an evidence of His mercy. And even now, He is giving you the opportunity to respond to His love, to receive the gift of eternal life which He provided for you at great cost to Himself. Every good and perfect gift comes down to us from God.

But Jacob didn’t say, “Look at these wagons! Look at all this stuff! This is great!” He didn’t even mention the gifts. Instead, when he believed that Joseph was alive, that was enough. Forget the gifts; Jacob wanted only to go and see Joseph. Even so, we should never become enamored with the gifts God provides as evidence of His faithfulness. Rather, we should ...

B. Look to the Lord Himself.

All Jacob wanted in life now was to go and see Joseph. I’m sure he appreciated and used the provisions Joseph had supplied. But Jacob’s consuming passion in life now was to see his son who had “died” and now was alive again.

God’s purpose in providing for us is not that we would get caught up with His provisions or gifts. God wants us to be enamored with His Son, who died and is alive forevermore. Look to the gifts God gives as evidence of His faithfulness, but remember, they’re only a means of getting us to look beyond to the face of the Giver. Our consuming passion in life should be to see Christ and be with Him.


A wealthy man once lost his wife when their only child was young. He hired a housekeeper to care for the boy, who lived only into his teens. Heartbroken from this second loss, the father died a short time later. No will could be found. Since there were no relatives, it looked as if the state would get his fortune.

The man’s personal belongings, including his mansion, were put up for sale. The old housekeeper had little money, but there was one thing she wanted. It was a picture that had hung on a wall in the house‑‑a photo of the boy she had loved and cared for. When the items were sold, nobody else wanted the picture, so she bought it for just a few cents. Taking it home, she began to clean it and polish the glass. As she took it apart, a paper fell out. It was the man’s will, and in it he stated that all his wealth should go to the one who loved his son enough to buy that picture. (“Our Daily Bread,” Summer, 1983.)

God’s abundant resources belong to all who trust and love His Son. The promises of God are all yes in Christ. If you’ve never come to Him, put aside any hindrances, look at the evidence of His faithfulness in your life and in His Word, and look beyond to the person of Christ Himself. Trust in Him and you will experience God’s provision for all your needs.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is greed is a major or minor problem for American Christians? How can we deal with it in ourselves and in our children in this materialistic culture?
  2. What are some bench marks by which we can gauge whether we are too caught up with our stuff and not enough with Christ?
  3. How can a pessimist become an optimist? Should he?
  4. How can a person who has suffered many hardships honestly believe in the goodness of God?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship, Spiritual Life

Lesson 77: Should I Move, Should I Stay? (Genesis 46:1-30)

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What is the longest you have ever lived in one house? If it’s more than five years, you’re above the national average. One out of five Americans moves every year. We are a transient nation. My father had an uncle who lived and died without ever traveling more than 50 miles from the place where he was born. In that day and before, generations often would stay in the same small community. Our frequent moving has fragmented the extended family. A few years ago a survey of American undergraduate students revealed that three-fourths of them could not give the first and last names of all four of their grandparents.

Sometimes I’ve been surprised at how quickly American Christians will move their families from one location to another without much thought or prayer. There are always reasons--they got a better job offer, they like the area, they want to get away from the crowded city and the crime, they want a better place to raise kids, etc. Some of those factors are worth considering, of course. But at times it seems that Christians hardly consider the Lord and His purpose. The local church and our ministry in a particular church ought to be important factors when considering any move. Of course there are times when God wants us to move. The question is, “How can I know whether God wants me to move or stay?”

In Genesis 46:1-30, Jacob moves his whole extended family down to Egypt. It was not an easy thing for a 130-year-old man to do! There was a famine in Canaan and his son Joseph had promised them the best of Egypt. Jacob desperately wanted to see Joseph, whom for 22 years, he had thought was dead. But Jacob knew that his grandfather, Abraham, had gotten into trouble in Egypt. God had forbidden his father, Isaac, to go there during another famine (26:2). Jacob knew that God’s promise involved Canaan, not Egypt. So he stopped in Beersheba to seek the Lord and did not move on to Egypt until the Lord gave him a green light. One of the main reasons Moses included this section was to show how this move out of the Promised Land fit in with the covenant plan of God. This story gives us some factors to consider when we are faced with a move:

When considering a move, seek the Lord and His perspective above all else.

Our text falls into three sections: (1) The move to Egypt (46:1-7); (2) The people who moved (46:8-27); and, (3) The reunion of Jacob and Joseph. I’m going to glean one principle from each section in relation to the matter of God’s guidance when facing a potential move.

1. Put a brake on your emotions and seek the Lord.

When Jacob finally believed his sons’ report that Joseph was alive and ruler of all Egypt, going to see Joseph became the consuming passion of his remaining life. Joseph had invited Jacob and the whole family to move to Egypt, where he would provide for them through the famine. So Jacob had his sons load the wagons and the whole extended family set off for Egypt.

The first night they arrived at Beersheba, at the southern end of Canaan. Beersheba stirred up many memories for Jacob. More than 40 years before Jacob’s birth his grandfather, Abraham, had made a covenant with Abimelech, king of the Philistines, there. He had planted a tamarisk tree and called on the name of the Lord (21:31-33). It was at Beersheba that Jacob’s father, Isaac, had seen the Lord, who had reconfirmed His promises to bless him and multiply his descendants (26:23-25). Isaac had dug a well there. It was at Beersheba that Jacob had tricked his father by stealing the blessing from his brother, Esau, and fled north to escape from his brother’s anger (27:30-28:10).

So now, as the old man sat under his grandfather’s tamarisk tree and drank water from his father’s well, he was flooded with the memories of a lifetime. As he reminisced about these things, Jacob probably grew a bit uneasy about his move to Egypt. He desperately wanted to see his beloved Joseph. But in light of God’s past dealings with him, his father, and grandfather, did God want him to make this move?

Egypt was quite different than Canaan. Both were thoroughly pagan, but Egypt was sophisticated, noted for its prosperity and technology. It was the most civilized and developed nation on earth at that time. Jacob and his sons had spent their lives in the country, taking care of livestock. What kind of effect would Egypt have on his family, who had been so easily lured by the evil ways of Canaan? Then there was the trouble his grandfather had gotten into in Egypt and God’s warning to his father not to go there. After all, God’s promises had never mentioned Egypt, but only Canaan. Was Jacob making a fatal mistake to take his family to Egypt?

So Jacob did a great thing: He stopped in Beersheba “and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (46:1). He put a brake on his emotions, which were moving him toward Joseph, and he sought the Lord. I believe that Jacob was primarily looking for guidance, but he did it through this act of consecration and worship. It’s important to understand that we can never know the will of God unless we are growing to know God Himself and we have yielded ourselves totally to Him. That’s what Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, that by presenting our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice we will prove what the will of God is.

The godly George Muller warned against rushing forward in self-will, thinking that you are following God’s will. He said, “Seek to have no will of your own, … so that you can honestly say, you are willing to do the will of God, …” (George Muller of Bristol, by A. T. Pierson [Revell], p. 450).

The Lord spoke to Jacob in “visions of the night” saying, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes [in death]” (46:2-4). God wouldn’t’ have said, “Don’t be afraid” unless Jacob had been afraid. So God calmed his fears and reconfirmed His promises to him. Jacob was able to go on to Egypt, sure that God was with him in this move. What a comforting assurance from God!

What Jacob did here was not easy because his emotions were running so high over the prospect of being with Joseph. What if when Jacob sought the Lord, He had said, “Don’t go”? That was a risk, wasn’t it? But Jacob realized that if God wasn’t in it, he wouldn’t be happy in going, even if it meant not seeing Joseph. So he put the brakes on his emotions and sought the Lord.

It’s easy to get excited about a move. Maybe life has been a bit boring and a move is an adventure. That’s U-Haul’s motto, “Adventure in Moving.” If you’ve ever driven a U-Haul, you know what that means! Maybe you’re tired of your problems in a job or locale and you’re ready to trade them in for a new situation. Maybe the move means more money, a greater challenge at work, a bigger home, a more desirable place to live. But if God isn’t in it, don’t do it! Put the brakes on your excitement long enough to yield yourself fully to Him, to seek Him, and to pray.

What you need, above all else, is to be sensitive to and to hear from the living God. By “hearing from God,” I do not mean an audible voice. God does that so rarely that you should not expect it. I’m bothered by people who go around saying, “The Lord told me.” You also need to be cautious about subjective impressions. It’s easy to be mistaken. But if you are walking closely with the Lord, if you seek godly counsel, and if you apply the wisdom from God’s Word in prayerful dependence on His Spirit, He will often give you a strong inner sense of whether a move is from Him or not. I have also found fasting to be helpful as I consider a major decision. I admit that the process is a bit subjective. But knowing the will of God is always connected with knowing God. So I must seek not only God’s will, but God Himself. Put a brake on your emotions and seek the Lord Himself.

2. Put thought into God’s purposes and obey His leading.

The second section of our text (46:8-27) consists of a long list of names of people we know nothing about. It’s not even useful if you’re looking for names for your baby, unless you want something like Muppim, Huppim or Ard. But God saw fit to include it in Scripture and we need to think about the reason why.

We need to remember that to the first readers of this book, these names meant something. This is a list of every tribe (and every major family group within that tribe) that later formed the nation Israel. Every Hebrew knew his family ancestry. The division of labor, the organization of the army, and the parceling of the land all were based on the tribes. Even the coming of the Messiah was through the particular tribe of Judah.

God’s way of working is to call individuals to Himself, just as He called Abraham. Through those individuals, He calls families, and through those families, nations are called to obedience to the Savior. God’s plan is to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham. That’s why, in verse 1, the text says that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac, and in verse 3, God identifies Himself to Jacob as “the God of your father.” Why not Jacob’s God? Because this is covenant history, the story of God’s dealings with His people. There is a corporate flavor, a sense of continuity between the generations, of God’s moving from the individual to the family to the nation in His working.

One of our major blind spots as American Christians is our individualistic approach to the Christian life. I’m not suggesting that we do not need an individual relationship with God. Of course we do! But we have made Christianity so personal that we have lost the sense of belonging to the church as God’s covenant people, His extended family, just as Israel was His people. Because we don’t know church history, we don’t have a sense of continuity with those who have gone before us. We join and leave a church according to our personal likes and dislikes. So many people attend a church for years, yet hardly know the others who attend. This lack of belonging makes us vulnerable to the enemy.

These lists of boring names meant something to Moses’s readers because this was family. Their identity was tied up in being of a certain family, of a certain tribe, of the nation descended from Israel. They saw themselves as a distinct people, set apart unto God. That’s why verse 10 singles out a son of Simeon whose mother was a Canaanite woman. That was both unusual and wrong. God’s people were not to intermarry with the pagans. They were to be distinct.

The way this applies to us in considering a move is that we never ought to make a move without considering our relationships with the family of God. If our identity is really bound up with this family of God in this locale, then to sever that connection by moving somewhere else ought to be done only after the most careful, prayerful consideration. Why does God want me to move from this expression of His family to another? Is there a solid Christian church in the new community where my family and I can grow and serve? If not, is God calling me to help establish such? If not, why am I going there? If it’s just for a better job or lifestyle, am I really seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness? God’s purpose through His church ought to be at the heart of any decision to move, whether you’re in “full time” ministry or not.

This list of names would have reminded Moses’s readers of their identity as God’s people in fulfilling His purposes. Also, it would have reminded them that the outworking of God’s purposes takes time, but it is absolutely certain. When Abraham was 75, God told him that He would make of him a great nation. Abraham was 100 before Isaac was born. Isaac was 60 before Jacob and Esau were born. Now Jacob was 130, and the “great nation,” after 215 years, consisted of these 70 descendants of Abraham. That’s not a quick start. But in the 400 or so years from Jacob to Moses, the number had mushroomed from 70 to over two million!

What God promises and purposes to do, He does, even though from our perspective it takes a long time. Our lifetimes are too short to measure God’s purpose. Our task is to understand God’s missionary purpose for the world (to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed) and to devote our lives to seeing that purpose brought about, even if it seems as if God is slow about His promises (see 2 Pet. 3:3-13).

David Livingstone, the great pioneer missionary to central Africa, was criticized in his day for being more of an explorer than a missionary. But Livingstone understood what many of his contemporaries did not, that Africa could only be opened to the gospel as trade routes were opened to the interior and as the slave trade was stamped out. He said that he would never live to see the fruit of his labors for Christ, but that in 100 years, the difference would be seen. He was right. Africa today has a strong Christian witness, thanks in large part to Livingstone’s foresight. He saw God’s purpose for Africa and he obeyed God’s leading for his life.

Not many of us are Livingstones. But we do need to consider God’s purpose for the nations when we think about a move. Maybe He wants you to work in a foreign country that is closed to traditional missionaries. There are many Christian “tentmakers” in our day who are deliberately moving to “closed” countries to work and witness as Christians. If God wants you to stay in the U.S., He still wants you to think in missionary terms. Which people does He want you to reach? So many Christians want to move to get away from people. Why do that when God’s purpose is to use us to reach them with the gospel?

Before I go on to the third point relating to a decision to move, I need to mention that there are several problems with this list. Some of the names here vary from other parallel lists (in Numbers 26 and 1 Chronicles 2-8). Some of these can be explained as variant spellings or as different names of the same person (a common practice). There is no reason to think that there are errors.

Another problem is that Benjamin is listed here as having ten sons, although he was only in his early twenties. In Numbers 26:40, some of these sons are said to be his grandsons (the Hebrews didn’t distinguish as carefully between the two terms as we do). When Moses writes that these 70 went down to Egypt, we need to understand the statement from the Hebrew perspective. He is writing covenant history, aimed at showing the roots of the Hebrew nation. His purpose here is to list the men who eventually became the heads of the twelve tribes and the sons and grandsons who became the founders of the major clans in Israel. What he means is that shortly after Israel and his sons came to Egypt, perhaps during Joseph’s lifetime, these 70 fathers, from whom the various clans of Israel descended, were born. Not all 70 had to be in the caravan from Canaan to Egypt to fit into Moses’s way of thinking and purpose. The fact that they were “in their father’s loins” means that they could be counted (see Heb. 7:9-10).

Another problem concerns the fact that Moses lists 70 persons, whereas Stephen, in his sermon before the Jewish council, says 75 (Acts 7:14). Stephen was quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which includes some people the Hebrew text omits. So it is a matter of whom you count. Stephen quoted from that version because it was the popular text of his day. For Moses, 70 was a significant number. Seven is the number of the divine covenant, ten the number of completeness. So these 70 names represent the completeness of God’s covenant promises to the fathers (so Keil, Leupold). This list is a confirmation that God’s promised blessing was intact.

To return to our theme, we have seen that seeking the Lord and His perspective above all else is the key to God’s will concerning a move. Put a brake on your emotions and seek the Lord; and, put thought into God’s purposes and obey His leading. Finally,

3. Put a premium on family relationships and enjoy God’s blessings.

I derive this point from the emotional reunion of Jacob and Joseph (46:28-30). Words could never describe the emotion of this scene. Thus it is told in the briefest manner: The old father and his son whom he thought dead, who hadn’t seen each other for these 22 years, fall on each other’s neck and weep for a long time. Jacob says, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.” He means, “In seeing you, I have experienced everything I want in life.”

Real joy in life comes through relationships, not through where you live or what you own. God has given us the family as the primary place to nurture those relationships. You can climb to the top of your career, even a “Christian career,” and have all the goodies that go along with success. But if you neglect your family to get there, you’ll come up empty.

I like reading biographies of great Christians. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, I have learned more through such books than through any other book, except the Bible. But one of the sad things I’ve learned is that some of the great men of God neglected their families in order to pursue their ministries. Of course, they didn’t have jets to take them across oceans in a matter of hours. They believed that they were obeying Christ’s words about not loving family members above Him. I’m not questioning their motives or love for Christ. But the bottom line is, they would be gone from their families for months, in some cases years, at a time. In many cases, their families suffered because of it.

That bothers me. If God has called me to have a family, then He wants my family life to be a priority. That’s a qualification for being a church leader. If He has also called me to be an itinerant missionary, then I’d better take my family with me as much as possible. Children often think that an absent father has rejected them, no matter how much he may love them. There is no way you can make up for not being there those few short years your kids are growing up. I don’t view being gone from your family for great periods of time as a sacrifice for the Lord. I view it as a neglect of a man’s primary responsibility of modeling his faith in his home.

So before you make a move, ask yourself, “How will this effect my family relationships?” Will it give me more time to be with my family, to teach them the Lord’s ways, to model before them what it means to walk with God? Will it give us as a family a better platform to serve the Lord together? Or will it simply foster my career at the expense of my family relationships?


The late Senator Paul Tsongas, then 43, shocked the political world when he announced in 1984 that he would not seek reelection because he was suffering from cancer and he wanted to spend more time with his family. His cancer was treatable, and he could have pursued his career. But he said, “One night my children went to sleep with my arms around them and I realized that for seven years this might rarely happen again. I used to walk my kids to school and think about reelection. Now I walk my kids to school and think about them. My life is richer.” He adds, “Someone wrote me, ‘No one on his deathbed ever says he wished he had spent more time on his business.’” (Reader’s Digest [9/84, pp. 163-164].)

To my knowledge, Mr. Tsongas was not a believer. So while he got his family values right, he still didn’t have his overall priorities straight. What I’ve been saying to you is, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). When considering a move, put God and His purposes first. That will bring everything else--your family, your ministry, your career--into proper focus.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree that American Christians are too individualistic? What are some signs of this?
  2. When we’re seeking God’s will how can we know whether an inner sense of peace is from Him or not?
  3. Should every Christian be focused on fulfilling the Great Commission? If not, what does Matthew 6:33 mean? If so, what are the implications?
  4. Do you agree that fathers should not be absent often from their kids? Should a man change his job if it requires this?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Home, Christian Life, Discipleship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Wisdom

Lesson 78: The Prosperity That Counts (Genesis 46:31-47:31)

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Sometimes stores offer contests where the winner has a certain amount of time to run through the store and select as many items as he or she can. After the time is up, the prices are totaled, but the person doesn’t have to pay.

If you won a contest like that, before your mad dash through the store you probably would think carefully about what you wanted to get. You would go for the items that cost the most and that you needed the most. You wouldn’t waste time on the cheap or frivolous. You would be focused on getting the most for your time.

In a way, life is a lot like that contest. The difference is, we don’t know how much time we have to do what we want to do. But the clock is running and we all spend our time in one way or another. The question is, when the clock stops, will we have our baskets full of the things that really matter or will we have a cart full of trivial things that are worthless in light of eternity?

It’s easy to say, “I want to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.” But it’s also easy to be distracted by things that are not so important. You rush through the daily routine. Before you know it, you’ve spent your life on things that you probably wouldn’t have chosen if you’d sat down and thought about it beforehand. They aren’t necessarily bad things. Outwardly it may seem that we’re doing well. But if we don’t prosper in what God wants, we’ve missed the prosperity that really counts.

Whenever I come to a portion of Scripture like this, I ask the question, “Why did the author include this section in this book?” Moses could have abbreviated it or left it out altogether. But he chose to devote a fair amount of space describing Joseph’s introduction of his brothers and father to Pharaoh and the account of Joseph’s administration of Egypt during the famine.

As I thought about the text, two strands emerged: the prosperity of God’s people, Israel; and, by way of contrast, the dire straits of the Egyptians, who were nonetheless saved through Joseph’s wise administration. You see this in 47:6, where Pharaoh tells Joseph that he can settle his brothers in the best of the land and gives them charge over his livestock. It comes through in the contrast of 47:12-13, which states that Joseph provided his family with food, but there was no food in the land because of the severe famine. Verses 14-26 describe the desperate situation in Egypt, where the people offer themselves as Pharaoh’s slaves and give up their land just to survive. Verse 27 shows the contrast, that Israel acquired property, was fruitful and became very numerous.

These themes of the prosperity of God’s people and the preservation of Egypt through Joseph tie in with the theme of God’s covenant with Abraham (12:1-3). God had promised to bless Abraham, to make him a great nation and to bless all nations through his descendants. Here we see God beginning to bless Abraham’s descendants and to use them to be a blessing to others. But God’s promise didn’t involve settling His people in Egypt, but Canaan. So at the end of the chapter, we see Jacob clinging to that promise by faith as he asks Joseph to bury him in Canaan. By doing that, he is saying to his posterity, “Even though you prosper in Egypt, don’t forget that God’s promise involves Canaan. Follow me back there!” Applying this to us the Lord is saying,

Commit yourself to make God and His purpose prosper and He will make you truly prosper.

It’s another way of saying, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). When the final buzzer sounds, what matters is God and His purpose. If we commit ourselves to Him, He will take care of the other things we need.

The question is, How do we do that in the midst of life’s pressures? How do I order my life to make God and His purpose prosper? I’d like to outline three ways, one from each of the sections of the text. In 46:31-47:6, Joseph prepares his brothers for their interview with Pharaoh and there is the interview itself; it shows us the principle of distinctness. In 47:7-26, Jacob meets and blesses Pharaoh and Joseph administers the famine relief program over Egypt; it shows us the principle of blessing others. And, in 47:27-31, as Jacob nears death (17 years later), he asks Joseph to promise that he will bury him in Canaan, not Egypt; it shows us the principle of priorities.

1. You make God and His purpose prosper by being distinct unto Him (46:31-47:6).

As Joseph’s brothers came into the land with all their flocks and herds, Joseph needed to inform Pharaoh and gain his consent for them to live in the land of Goshen. So he coaches his brothers on what to say when they meet Pharaoh. In 46:31 & 32, Joseph tells them that he will tell Pharaoh that they are shepherds and keepers of livestock. He asks his brothers to give Pharaoh the same message, not to try to impress him that they are something they are not. He lets them know his purpose: “that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians” (vs. 34). He’s warning his brothers that Pharaoh isn’t going to think highly of their occupation, but that it will probably result in their getting the land of Goshen to themselves. Sure enough, that’s what happened.

Why would Joseph want to keep his family in the land of Goshen? The main reason was to keep them separate from the fast lane in Egypt. Joseph probably had a hunch that Pharaoh might offer his brothers top government jobs, since he was so favorable toward Joseph. But that could easily be the downfall of these men. While Joseph could handle the high society life in Egypt and remain pure before the Lord, his brothers probably could not. For God’s purpose to be fulfilled, Israel had to be a distinct nation, set apart unto Him. So Joseph’s concern was that God’s people, Joseph’s family, maintain their distinctiveness in spite of the ridicule that may come from the Egyptians.

One of the greatest needs for God’s people today is that we be distinct from the world, set apart unto God. The biblical term for that is holiness. It grieves me when I hear of Christians acting the same as the world acts. When Christians use abusive speech toward their mates or children, when they are dishonest in business, when they live for selfish pursuits, when they are morally impure, the salt has lost its savor. Biblical holiness starts with the way we think, where we stand apart from our culture and live to please God according to His Word. But that’s not going to happen if we spend 20 hours a week in front of the tube and an hour or less meditating on God’s Word.

One reason that holiness is so hard is that we all want to be popular with the “Egyptians.” Shepherds were loathsome to the Egyptians. They didn’t consider shepherding a status job. Joseph and his family had to anticipate the scorn of the Egyptians in their commitment to live separately unto God in Goshen. And you have to recognize up front that if you’re going to follow the Lord, you may not win any popularity contests. You may be respected, as Joseph was. But more often than not, the world ridicules you behind your back, if not to your face, for living a holy life.

But there are some benefits to making a commitment to be distinct from the world. Look at 47:6: Pharaoh says, “The land of Egypt is at your disposal; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land ...; and if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock.” God gave His people the best of the land and extra work besides!

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to talk about being holy, but it’s another thing to do it when the pressure is on. We’re saints by calling, but we’re still creatures of the flesh. I face the same temptations you do to bend the truth at times, to gratify the flesh, to be selfish and greedy. It’s only by spending consistent time alone with God in His Word that I have the strength to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

So the first principle of making God and His purpose prosper is to be distinct from the world. If Israel had gotten absorbed into Egyptian life, God’s purpose to use them would have been thwarted.

2. You make God and His purpose prosper by being a blessing to others (47:7-26).

Next Joseph presents his aged father to Pharaoh. Jacob blesses Pharaoh. Then we see Pharaoh prospering under Joseph’s administration of the famine relief. I believe that this section is here to show us an initial fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, as God’s blessing is mediated to the nations through the seed of Abraham. In type, Israel became the savior of the Gentiles through Joseph. Let’s look first at Jacob’s blessing Pharaoh and then at Joseph’s administration of the famine.

Jacob may have blessed Pharaoh twice, once upon entering and again as he exited. Or, verse 7 may be a summary of what follows, so that Jacob blessed Pharaoh just prior to leaving. Pharaoh asked the old patriarch his age and he responded with his self-pitying answer (47:9). I’m surprised that most commentators see this as a great witness. They point out how Jacob testified that life is a pilgrimage and that even 130 years is short in light of eternity.

But to me, that’s going overboard to give Jacob the benefit of the doubt. I think that Jacob’s answer reflects his lifelong pessimism. He always wavered between faith and doubt. He gives a completely different and far better summary of his life in 48:15-16, when he blesses Joseph’s sons by saying, “The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.” That testimony reflects God’s perspective on Jacob’s life. His words before Pharaoh reflect life from the human perspective.

But, in spite of that, Jacob did bless Pharaoh. The exact words are not recorded, but probably it was a prayer that God would prosper Pharaoh and be gracious to him. It is significant that this old shepherd, whose occupation was despised by the Egyptians, could walk in before their leader, with all his pomp and splendor, and not be intimidated. Instead Jacob knew that he had something to offer Pharaoh, namely, a blessing from the living God.

Each of us has that same blessing to offer every person we meet. It may be a wealthy and famous person, like Pharaoh. Perhaps it’s your boss or someone who is sophisticated and cultured compared to you. It doesn’t matter. We can offer that person the good news of Jesus Christ. We’ve got what that person needs and we shouldn’t be intimidated by all the outward stuff that doesn’t matter to God.

On one occasion a man named Peter Cartwright was about to preach when his deacons informed him that President Andrew Jackson had unexpectedly showed up. They asked him to be careful what he said. He stood up to preach and began, “I understand that Andrew Jackson is with us today, and I have been asked to be guarded in my remarks. Andrew Jackson will go to hell as quickly as any other man if he does not repent!” The congregation was shocked, wondering how the President would react. At the close of the meeting, President Jackson shook Cartwright’s hand and said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.” Perhaps Cartwright was a bit rough, but to his credit he knew that President Jackson was a sinner who needed the same as everyone else.

Jacob thought he was going to die soon (45:28; 46:30; 47:9), but he lived for 17 more years. Some people think they’re at death’s door, but God will give them many more years. Others think they have many more years, but they’re unknowingly at death’s door. Since none of us knows how long we’re going to live, we need to live each day in light of eternity, redeeming the time by blessing others with the good news of Christ.

Jacob’s blessing in word was fulfilled in deed by Joseph’s wise administration on Pharaoh’s behalf. Notice the contrast between verse 12, which states that Joseph provided his family with food, and verse 13 which says that there was no food in the land because of the famine. God’s people prospered while the Egyptians used up their money, then their cattle, then offered themselves and their land to become Pharaoh’s slaves so that they could survive this famine.

Many have criticized Joseph, accusing him of being harsh and of degrading these people through slavery. But that is to read this story through the lens of our culture. The people’s evaluation of Joseph was, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord” (47:25). If they were happy with him, who are we to criticize him? This was a life and death situation. Their concern wasn’t democracy; it was survival. Joseph could have done what many in his position have done, namely, to use his power to feather his own pocket and that of his cronies. He could have rationalized it by saying, “Pharaoh is already rich, and besides, he’s a tyrant.” But he didn’t do that. He wasn’t making a personal profit at the expense of starving people. He sought the best interests of Pharaoh and of the people, and everyone sensed that.

True, this wasn’t democracy. But neither was it a terrible situation. Democracy was virtually unknown at this stage of world history. The slavery which Joseph instituted was not the degrading kind that was often practiced in our country. Probably Joseph moved the people to the cities for more efficient distribution of the grain (47:21), but we would be reading into the text to assume that he split up families and carried people off in chains as the African slave traders did. He instituted a 20 percent flat tax, which really isn’t bad. When you take into account federal and state income tax, sales tax, property tax, gas tax, inheritance tax, business taxes (passed on to the consumer in hidden form), and social security tax, not to mention various “user fees,” most Americans pay far more than 20 percent.

But it was no small feat for a politician to please the one over him while at the same time having his constituents thank him while he sells them into slavery and institutes a 20 percent tax hike! But Joseph did what few have done: he was a skillful politician and administrator while at the same time he was a man who put first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He was truly a blessing to others.

That’s what God wants you to be in your world, whether at work, in the neighborhood, or at school. He wants you to seek the best interests of your employer and fellow employees at work. He wants you to be His channel for blessing those around your neighborhood or your fellow students and your teachers. You can only do that if you maintain your integrity through a close walk with God. You do it both through your words (as Jacob did) and your deeds (as Joseph did).

Your job reveals a lot about your character. It shows whether you are lazy, greedy, given to deception under pressure, whether you can get along with people, if you gossip, if you compromise your standards when it’s expedient. Or, it shows that you are punctual, industrious, generous, truthful, harmonious, trustworthy, loyal, a person of principle.

Christians often presume on their Christian employer for favors. “After all, we’re brothers in the Lord. He’ll understand if I take time on the job to witness or if I use business supplies for myself.” But unless your employer has given you permission, you’re out of line. Joseph didn’t presume upon Pharaoh. He didn’t pull rank and remind Pharaoh of how he had saved his throne. He was open and up front with him about his family. Pharaoh is the one who told them to take the land of Goshen (45:18-19, 47:6, 11).

So wherever God has you, purpose to be distinct as a Christian and to be a blessing to those around you through your godly behavior and verbal witness.

3. You make God and His purpose prosper by keeping your priorities right when God prospers you (47:27-31).

Jacob’s final 17 years were probably the best years of his life. He had his children restored to him. His extended family prospered. It would have been easy for him to think, “Egypt isn’t such a bad place. We’ve had a good life here. God has taken care of us. Let’s just settle in for the long haul.” But instead, as he came near to death, he called Joseph and made him swear that he would bury him in Canaan, not in Egypt. He wanted his posterity to remember that God’s promise involved Canaan. He didn’t want them to settle indefinitely in Egypt.

That took some faith on Jacob’s part. It had been over 200 years since God had promised Canaan to Abraham. Here his grandson, Jacob, is, dying in Egypt with no tangible indication that God’s promise about Canaan would be fulfilled. It would have been so easy for him, especially in light of the hard times he had experienced in Canaan and the good times he had enjoyed in Egypt, to have set God’s promise for Canaan on the shelf. But in spite of his prosperity in Egypt, Jacob kept his priorities straight.

When Joseph agreed to Jacob’s request, the old patriarch bowed in worship. The best Hebrew reading is probably, “on the top of his staff” (see Heb. 11:21). The author of Hebrews quotes this incident to make the point that Jacob did it by faith. He was believing that God would fulfill His promises concerning Canaan even though it would not belong to Jacob’s posterity for over 400 more years. That faith led him to worship God.

The good life in Egypt can never compare to the blessings of the Promised Land. But we all face the danger of becoming enamored with the goodies of Egypt and forgetting that we are looking for that heavenly city to come. God has graciously prospered us in this world. We must remember that our purpose for being here is not to accumulate the things Egypt has to offer. We’re here to further God’s purpose, to communicate the good news of Christ to every tribe and tongue and nation. The person who by faith lays up treasure in heaven is truly prosperous, as Jesus pointed out. He has something that the world cannot give or take away.


Let’s come back to that contest. Each of us has used up some of the time on the clock. We’ve all got some things in our shopping cart. I want you to look at those things in light of eternity. Are they the things that will really matter when the time is up? If not, you’ve still got some time left. Use that time to make God and His purpose prosper. Use your time and treasure in light of eternity. If you’ll do that, God will make sure that you truly prosper.

If you’ve never met Christ as your Savior, you may be very successful by this world’s standards, but you’ve missed the prosperity that really counts. Someday soon you will die and then who will own all that you have worked to accumulate? Jesus advises us to be rich toward God. That process begins when by faith you receive God’s offer to forgive your sins and give you eternal life as His free gift.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does being distinct as a Christian mean being weird? If not, what is at the heart of being holy unto the Lord?
  2. How separate from our culture must we be? Should we avoid watching popular movies and TV shows? Don’t we have to be in the world to relate to worldly people?
  3. Do some professions make it impossible for Christians to maintain integrity? Can a Christian be a good criminal attorney, a good politician, a successful corporate executive, etc. and still be totally upright?
  4. To what degree may Christians enjoy worldly prosperity? Must we give away everything above a subsistence level to be seeking first God’s kingdom?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1997

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship

Lesson 79: A Godly Heritage (Genesis 48:1-22)

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Back in the late sixties, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young came out with a popular song called, “Teach Your Children Well.” It was addressed to the freewheeling hippie generation, which had tried to cast off all the restraints and rules of their parents’ generation. While the song reflected noble intentions, I always thought that there was a great deal of irony reflected in it, that this rebellious generation would somehow succeed in teaching their children where their parents had failed.

I’m afraid that my generation succeeded in teaching our kids all too well. We taught them that lifelong commitment in marriage is outdated. We taught them to cast off the roles of husband as provider and wife as mother and homemaker. We taught them to do whatever feels good, whether sex, drugs, drinking, or any other impulse. And, we taught them to feel good about themselves while they walked out on their marriages and coped with all their various addictions!

But while my generation largely failed because we cast off God’s standards, the theme of that song is still true, that we must teach our children well. The family is at the center of God’s purpose. It is primarily in the family that a godly heritage is handed down from generation to generation. God chose Abraham and promised to give him a family and from that family to make a nation to bless other nations. Abraham’s family was the foundation of the nation Israel, from which the Savior came.

In Genesis 48, we see Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, handing his heritage in God to his son, Joseph, and to his grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim. He adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own, blessing Joseph through them. One reason this chapter is here is to explain why Joseph isn’t listed as one of the tribes in Israel. He got a double inheritance through his two sons who were adopted by Jacob.

Out of all the events recorded in Jacob’s long life, the author of Hebrews selects this episode as his example of Jacob’s faith: “By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (Heb. 11:21). Jacob had not yet received the fulfillment of God’s promises. But he blessed these two young men, believing that God would keep His word through them. In that act of faith we see Jacob imparting to his son and grandsons the most important thing he could have given them, namely, faith in the promises of God. From this chapter we learn that the most important thing we can give to our children and grandchildren is not a college education or a large inheritance.

The most important thing we can give our children and grandchildren is a godly heritage.

I doubt if I need to convince you of the truth of that proposition. I cannot explore all the ways we can do it. But from this chapter I’d like to share three ways that we can impart a godly heritage to our children and grandchildren.

1. We give a godly heritage by taking spiritual concern not only for our children, but also for our grandchildren.

Jacob adopts these two grandsons as his own sons and imparts his blessing to them. With Jacob, as well as with his father, Isaac, before him, the blessing was reserved for a special occasion. It was more than just a father’s prayer for the well-being of his son. It was the actual imparting of well-being, based on special divine prophetic insight about the spiritual future of that son. Once given, it was irrevocable. That’s why Esau was so upset when Jacob deceived their father into giving him the blessing.

In 48:15 it says that Jacob blessed Joseph. But as you go on to read the blessing, you discover that Jacob blessed Joseph by blessing Joseph’s sons. Parents are truly blessed when their parents take a concern for the spiritual well-being of the grandchildren. Since God’s purpose spans the generations, our goal should be to raise up godly generations, not only through our children, but also through their children. Grandparents who love the Lord are a great gift to a child. They can sometimes impart spiritual truth to our kids in a way we can’t. And they reinforce the spiritual values which we’re trying to impart.

I love this perceptive essay by a third grade girl, called, “What’s A Grandmother?” (James Dobson, What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women [Tyndale], pp. 47-48):

A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own. She likes other people’s little girls and boys. A grand­father is a man grandmother. He goes for walks with the boys, and they talk about fishing and stuff like that.

Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except to be there. They’re so old they shouldn’t play hard or run. It is enough if they drive us to the market where the pretend horse is, and have a lot of dimes ready. Or if they take us for walks, they should slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars. They should never say “hurry up.”

Usually grandmothers are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear. They can take their teeth and gums off.

Grandmothers don’t have to be smart, only answer questions like, “Why isn’t God married?” and “How come dogs chase cats?”

Grandmothers don’t talk baby talk like visitors do, because it is hard to understand. When they read to us, they don’t skip or mind if it is the same story over again.

Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don’t have television, because they are the only grown-ups who have time.

All Christians are concerned for the spiritual well-being of their children and grandchildren, but they don’t always communicate their concern properly. I’ve observed two opposite extremes. Some Christian parents err on the side of laying down rigid rules and correcting the slightest violation with severity. They lack grace, kindness, and patience. Others go to the other extreme and let their kids run wild, afraid that if they correct them they may damage their fragile self-esteem. They fail to impart any notion of God’s standards for behavior or of consequences for disobedience. We must teach God’s standards, but we must do it with tenderness and affection. People of any age, but especially children, learn best when they feel loved and when they hear kind and encouraging words.

Here Jacob speaks encouraging words to these two grandsons. He draws them near to himself, kisses and embraces them. Though there is no mention of the look on his face, you don’t have to read between the lines of verse 11 to see the radiance on his face as his dim eyes look with joy on these young men (who were about 20 by now). Then he lays his hands on them as he blesses them. Through his words, his expression, and his affectionate touch, Jacob made these grandsons feel loved. They later gave up their Egyptian culture and royal upbringing and identified themselves with this despised band of shepherds who were waiting for the promises of God. So take a deep spiritual concern, not only for your children, but also for your grandchildren, and wrap it in a love that they feel.

2. We give a godly heritage by recounting to our children and grandchildren our own experiences with God.

This assumes, of course, that we are walking with God. Jacob went through his ups and downs, but through it all, he had walked with God. When Joseph came to see him on his death bed, Jacob recalled how God had appeared to him at Luz (Bethel) and the promises God had made to him there. When he saw Joseph’s two sons, Jacob expressed his gratitude that God had allowed him to see not only Joseph, but also his children. Then, in blessing his grandsons, Jacob recounted God’s faithfulness and goodness again. Even in his unexpected crossing of his hands, so that the blessing of the firstborn went to Ephraim instead of Manasseh, Jacob was recounting his own experience of God’s grace. Let me pick out of this chapter just three things about your experience with God that you need to impart to your children and grandchildren:

A. Tell them of God’s covenant faithfulness toward you.

That theme permeates Jacob’s testimony in this chapter. Seventeen years before he had complained to Pharaoh, “Few and unpleasant have been the years of my life” (47:9). But now, Jacob has mellowed. As he takes a final look backward, he remembers how God appeared to him at Bethel as he fled from his brother. Jacob had deceived his father and wronged his brother. God would have been just in finding someone else to use in accom­plishing His purpose. But He appeared to Jacob and affirmed the covenant promises to him.

Twenty years later, Jacob wasn’t much farther along. He had out-swindled his uncle Laban and headed back to Canaan. He had settled outside of the land without seeking God’s direction. Then his sons deceived and murdered a whole town because one young man there had raped their sister. But God appeared a second time to Jacob at Bethel and assured him that the promises were still good.

Even in Jacob’s great time of sorrow, when Rachel died, God’s comfort had been real. The pain of that loss was still with the old man as he reminisced here (48:7). But God had been with him. Then the hammer blow of Joseph’s loss had hit the grieving man. He had thought that he would never see his son again. He went through years of confusion, wondering how the loss of his one son who seemed to follow the Lord could fit in with the promises of God. But now, at the end of his journey, God had proved Himself faithful, as Jacob held in his arms not only Joseph, but Joseph’s two sons. And so as he blesses his grandsons, Jacob tells them how God has been his shepherd all his life to that day and how God will be with them (48:15, 21).

When your family looks at your life, are they inclined to say, “God is sure faithful, isn’t He”? Or, would they say, “God must not be very good, because dad’s always complaining about the treatment he’s getting”? Complainers tell others something untrue about God, namely that He isn’t faithful. Kids are skilled in reading between the lines of our lives. If we profess to know the Lord, but our lives are a constant complaint, they put it together and make a mental note that they don’t want anything to do with our God. We’ve got to tell them, by our words and our attitudes, that God is faithful, even through the hard times.

B. Tell them of God’s great salvation.

Jacob calls God, “The angel who has redeemed me from all evil” (48:16). He was probably thinking primarily of his experience at Mahanaim, when the angels camped around him to protect him from Laban, and then when the angel wrestled with him at Peniel just prior to his feared reunion with Esau. He here equates this angel with God. I believe the angel of God is the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “redeemed” is a special Hebrew word that was used of a near relative who had the means of helping a poor relative out of bondage. If the poor relative had to sell part of his property or even sell himself into servitude in order to survive, the redeemer could buy back that relative’s property or the relative himself, thus restoring his freedom (Lev. 25:25 ff., 47 ff.).

That’s a beautiful picture of what God did for us in Christ. We were enslaved to sin with no way to free ourselves. The price was more than we could ever afford. But God sent our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and paid the price with His own blood. It’s a story that you need to tell your children and grandchildren over and over. They need to know that you once were lost in sin, but that Christ has saved you. They need to know that they need Christ as their Redeemer.

C. Tell them of God’s amazing grace.

In blessing his grandsons, Jacob deliberately crossed his hands, so that his right hand rested upon Ephraim, the youngest, instead of upon Manasseh, the oldest, as Joseph had planned. When Joseph tried to correct his father, the old man said, “I know, my son, I know.”

Why did Jacob do that? Because God had revealed to Jacob that Ephraim would take prominence over Manasseh among the tribes of Israel. In fact, this didn’t happen for hundreds of years. Even in Moses’s day, Manasseh outnumbered Ephraim by more than 20,000 (Num. 26:34, 37). Moses shows his faith in recording this prophecy which wasn’t yet fulfilled in his day. But finally Ephraim did grow larger and more prominent than Manasseh, fulfilling Jacob’s prophecy.

There was no human reason that Jacob blessed Ephraim above his older brother. But in so doing, Jacob was illustrating a divine principle which he had learned: that God blesses us apart from any merit on our part. The world would have picked the skillful archer, Ishmael; God picked quiet Isaac. The world would have picked the rugged outdoorsman, Esau; God picked conniving Jacob. The world would have picked the older, Manasseh; God picked the younger, Ephraim.

Why doesn’t God operate on the merit system? Why doesn’t He choose the most gifted, intelligent, upright, promising people for His church? Paul tells us that He does it to shame the wisdom of this world, so that no one can boast before God (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

Manasseh could have grumbled, “It’s not fair that my younger brother gets first place ahead of me.” But if he had said that, he would have missed God’s grace. Grace doesn’t operate on the basis of human merit, but on the basis of God’s sovereign choice. The clay has no right to question the potter, “Why have you made me like this?” (Rom. 9:20). If God gave us what we deserve, we would all go straight to hell. We must learn to humble ourselves before the Sovereign God and gratefully receive His grace, rather than grumble about why someone else seems to get better treatment than we do.

So we impart a godly heritage to our children and grandchildren by taking spiritual concern for them and by recounting to them our own experiences with God. Finally,

3. We give a godly heritage by picturing to our children and grandchildren our hopes for their future in the Lord.

If you were a refugee shepherd and had two grandsons who had been raised in the palace in the most advanced nation on earth, what kind of future would you hope for those boys? It would have been so natural for Jacob to wish for them all the privileges that the court of Egypt offered. They had all the comforts of wealth and opportunities for power and prestige. I wonder if their mother, from a well-known family in Egypt, would have been horrified to think of her sons being identified with the despised shepherds of Israel rather than with the high political circles of Egypt. “You’re throwing away your career in Egypt for what?!!” But by faith Jacob pictured for these grandsons a future in which they were identified with the covenant people of God. Jacob believed God for the fulfillment of things not yet seen.

Then Jacob by faith paints a picture of Joseph’s future in the Lord. He says, “I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers. And I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow” (48:21-22). It would have been so easy to say, “Son, I’m proud of your success in Egypt. You’re a chip off the old block,” and leave it at that. But Jacob helped Joseph to see what God wanted for his future, namely, to return to the Promised Land.

Verse 22 is difficult to interpret. We can’t be dogmatic, but several Hebrew scholars interpret the verb as a prophetic perfect, describing that which is yet future as already accomplished. Thus Jacob is prophetically speaking of his posterity as taking by force that which he had purchased. He had bought a piece of land near Shechem. The Hebrew word “portion” is a play on the word Shechem. The word “Amorite” recalls God’s prophecy to Abraham, that his descendants would be slaves in another land for 400 years, but that they would return to Canaan when the iniquity of the Amorite was complete (15:13-16). So here Jacob may be telling Joseph that the portion he had bought in Shechem was a pledge of God’s promise and that his descendants would conquer the Amorites by force in fulfillment of God’s judgment.

The point is, Jacob pictured a great future in the Lord for his children and grandchildren, a future that involved the fulfillment of God’s promises. As God’s people in our day, we need to picture for our children the great purpose of completing the task of world evangelization before the Lord’s coming. We do not truly bless our children if we encourage them to worldly success instead of success with God. By our example, through stories we read to them, through the values we live and teach, we need to give our children a vision for the coming kingdom that God has promised for those who love Him.

Let me balance that by saying that we need to be careful not to determine that our children must follow in a certain career path to please us. Joseph had an agenda for his sons in which Manasseh received the blessing of the firstborn. God’s plan was different, and Joseph had to bow before that plan. We need to encourage our kids to follow the Lord with all their heart, but at the same time realize that the Lord may not want them to be what we want them to be.

I know that my parents are delighted that I’m in full time ministry. But when I dropped out of seminary and spent four years painting houses while I waited for God’s direction, they never pushed me or said, “We’re so disappointed that you dropped out of seminary.” They loved me and told me that they wanted me to do what God wanted for me. The Lord led me back to seminary and into the pastorate, but I never felt pushed by my parents’ expectations. In the flyleaf of the first Bible which they gave me for my eighth birthday my parents wrote, “Our greatest hope for you is that you will always live close to Jesus Christ.” Through those kind of encouraging words, written and spoken over and over, we paint for our children and grandchildren our hope for their future in the Lord.


As parents, we should feel greatly blessed of God if our children are blessed of him. I remember years ago when this really hit me. I had been reading the autobiography of the great British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I was jogging in the forest one day, asking God to bless my ministry like Spurgeon’s. Suddenly the question popped into my mind, “What about John Spurgeon?” Millions have heard of Charles Spurgeon, but hardly anyone could tell you who John Spurgeon was. He was the father of Charles, also a preacher, and the son of a preacher. If his son had not achieved such fame as a preacher, John Spurgeon would have served the Lord faithfully, gone to his grave, and his memory would have perished. There have been thousands of pastors like him who have walked with God, shepherded His flock for a lifetime, and gone to their reward without any notice in the sight of the world.

As I jogged, I thought, “Would I be willing to serve God faithfully and raise up my children to serve him, even if I never achieved any recognition?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized, Yes! That’s what I want! I would be gratified if my children and their children after them go on to love the Lord, even if I never achieve what the world views as “success.” The most important heritage we can hand down to our children and grandchildren is faith in the promises of God. I encourage you to put aside everything that would hinder you and to work at giving your children that kind of godly heritage.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the biggest enemy in our culture as we seek to raise up godly children? Time pressure? Peer pressure? Drugs? Sex? TV? Success syndrome? (Other)?
  2. How can we teach our children grace (unmerited favor) and yet teach them that behavior has consequences?
  3. Agree/disagree: If kids don’t turn out right the parents must have blown it.
  4. Most of us aren’t starting with a clean slate. How would you counsel a parent who may be divorced or in a messy family situation to begin in this process of developing a godly heritage for his/her children?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1997

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Home, Fathers, Mothers, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 80: Problem Passions (Genesis 49:1-7)

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“Camelot” is the classic story of King Arthur and his “Knights of the Roundtable.” Theirs was a happy kingdom until his leading knight, Sir Lancelot, fell passionately in love with Arthur’s queen, Guinevere. Lancelot and Guinevere’s unbridled passion, which seemed to promise fulfillment to the lovers, resulted in the ruin of that happy kingdom.

That plot has been played over and over in millions of homes, many of them Christian homes. The initial happiness and potential for lifelong joy is shipwrecked on the rocks of uncontrolled passion. Often it is the passion of lust. Just as often it is the passion of anger. Both of these powerful passions can ruin families. Some of you may be struggling with those problem passions.

In Genesis 49:1-7, we encounter three men whose personal and family lives suffered because of uncontrolled lust and anger: Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. The dying patriarch Jacob calls his twelve sons to his bedside to give them a final blessing (49:28), which is also a prophecy of things to come (49:1). I believe that Jacob was speaking under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he predicted what would happen, not only to his sons, but to the tribes which issued from them. By devoting so much space to these prophecies, it is clear that Moses saw these dying words of Jacob as significant in explaining the history of God’s covenant nation.

At first glance you might think that these first three blessings sound more like a curse. Jacob strongly rebukes his sons for past sins and predicts that those sins will have far reaching consequences in the future of the tribes. And yet, properly understood, correc­tions and warnings are blessings. While these are prophecies, they are based upon Jacob’s long, careful observation of his sons’ character and personalities. Jacob’s words served to warn his sons and their descendants of the areas of weakness where they especially needed to be on guard. And, as we’ll see, the tribe of Levi, while fulfilling the prophecy concerning them, actually turned what sounds like a curse into a blessing as they turned to the Lord.

The warning, which can become a blessing if we’ll heed it, is:

Uncontrolled passions lead to personal and family ruin.

Reuben (49:3-4) shows us the lesson of uncontrolled lust; Simeon and Levi (49:5-7) show us the lesson of uncontrolled anger; and, the history of the tribe of Levi teaches us how a seeming curse can be turned into a blessing.

1. The passion of uncontrolled lust leads to ruin.

Three observations from Jacob’s words to Reuben:

A. Great potential can be ruined by uncontrolled passion.

Jacob begins by building up the great potential which Reuben enjoyed as the firstborn, only to yank the rug out from under him by bringing up an incident from over 40 years before, the time when Reuben had lain with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (35:22). Reuben, the firstborn, should have received a double portion of the inheritance. He should have been the leader among his brothers. He, above all his brothers, should have been the one to defend his father’s honor, not defile it. But his one act of indulgence robbed him of his privileges as the firstborn. Like King David after him, he paid a terrible price for a night of pleasure.

All the potential in the world won’t benefit you if you don’t develop self-control, especially in the area of sexual temptation. Satan has plenty of time to wait for you to fall. He just sets his traps and bides his time. Eventually, he knows that he’s going to trip you up. You may be preeminent in dignity and power. But if you’re as uncontrolled as water, it’s only a matter of time until your potential is swept away by the flood of lust. The Hebrew word translated “uncontrolled” means “reckless.” The picture is of water that floods its banks and goes wildly out of control.

It seems that Reuben had never checked his lust, but just let it rush recklessly from one situation to the next. Who knows how many times he had glanced furtively at Bilhah? Perhaps she noticed and liked the attention, so she flirted with him. Besides, Reuben was angry at his dad for the favoritism he had shown to Joseph and Benjamin. Perhaps going to bed with Bilhah was Reuben’s way of getting back at his father.

Some of you have tremendous potential in the Lord. But you’ve got a habit of flowing downstream with lustful thoughts. It’s all in your head at this point. No one else knows and no one has gotten hurt--yet. But, great gifts are worthless without godly character. I know many gifted pastors who are out of the ministry because they did not judge their lust. If you aren’t learning to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ, it’s only a matter of time before your great potential is ruined by reckless lust.

B. Position and power aren’t gained by grabbing.

Position, power and illicit sex are often intertwined. Part of Reuben’s motive behind his sin with Bilhah may have been to grab for power over his father and his father’s favorite sons. I’m basing this on two factors. The first is the timing of the incident. Reuben went in to Bilhah shortly after the death of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, the mother of the favored sons, Joseph and Benjamin (see context, 35:22). Why then? I think that Reuben was trying to make sure that Jacob didn’t take Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, and elevate her above Leah, Reuben’s mother.

The second factor may not be valid, in that I am reading a later custom back into this situation. But later in Israel’s history, if a son took his father’s concubine to bed, it meant that he had assumed his father’s place of power. Absalom did that with his father David’s concubines when he rebelled (2 Sam. 16:21-22). Later, Solomon’s brother, Adonijah, tried to grab the throne by securing one of David’s concubines as his wife (1 Kings 2:13-25).

So I think that Reuben, in taking his father’s concubine, was seeking to secure first place for himself. He didn’t want to lose his inheritance to Rachel’s or Bilhah’s sons. But the very act by which Reuben tried to grab power resulted in his losing it. The first shall be last. Those who seek to gain their life will lose it. Position and power , in God’s sight, aren’t gained by grabbing.

Reuben should have been and wanted to be the leader over his brothers. But you don’t become a leader by grabbing for power while at the same time violating God’s moral law. True power stems from character and integrity. That’s why, when Paul lists the qualifications for leadership in the local church, he never mentions personality or gifts but, rather, character qualities (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). And in the home, men, you don’t lead spiritually by barking orders and throwing your weight around. You lead by demonstrating the character of Christ who showed His love by laying down His life for us.

C. Uncontrolled lust always has consequences which go beyond us.

Jacob now makes it clear that this sin, though committed years before, would deprive Reuben and his descendants of their rights as the firstborn. His one sin affected thousands of his descendants for hundreds of years after!

You may complain, “That’s not fair!” But that is in fact how God deals with sin, and we dare not challenge His righteous judgment. We need to burn into our thinking the fact that sin always has consequences and those consequences are never just private. Present actions shape the future. Character flaws and sins that we let go unchecked can affect our children and grandchildren after us for many generations (Exod. 20:5). We may think that nobody else knows and that no one will get hurt. Maybe it was a one night fling in another town when you were on a business trip. But what if that woman had AIDS and you get it and pass it on to your wife? That can have rather severe consequences for your whole family! And don’t presume that God is going to protect you because you’re under grace. In the book written to defend God’s grace Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8).

So Reuben’s life teaches us that the passion of uncontrolled lust leads to both personal and family ruin. Simeon and Levi teach us that …

2. The passion of uncontrolled anger leads to ruin.

When Jacob says that these men are brothers, he doesn’t mean just biological brothers. He means that they are two of a kind. Brothers and sisters can either encourage one another to righteous living or to sin. These brothers plotted how they would get even with the Shechemites because the prince of Shechem had raped their sister. They used God’s covenant of circumcision, which should have been a channel of blessing, as the means of deceiving and slaughtering all the men in the town. Here Jacob distances himself from their treachery and pronounces a curse upon their anger. Four observations about anger from this text:

A. Be careful with so-called righteous anger.

Simeon and Levi probably would have defended themselves by saying that they were righteously angry. When Jacob scolded them about what they did, they shot back, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?” (34:31). They argued that they were avenging the wrong done to their sister, defending her honor. But really, they were only defending their own pride. They went far beyond the bounds of righteous anger. The brothers were quite right to be angry about their sister’s rape and Jacob was wrong to be so apathetic about it. But they were very wrong in the way they dealt with their anger.

Not all anger is sin, but we must be very careful when we are righteously angry not to cross the line into unrighteous anger. That’s why Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27). Even when we are righteously angry, it’s so easy to step over the line into wounded pride, giving the devil a foothold in our lives. Whenever you begin to plot vengeance under the guise of righteous anger, you’re out of line. The Bible is clear that vengeance belongs to the Lord. While He later commanded Israel to execute His judgment on the Canaanites, He gave no such command to Simeon and Levi.

Scottish hymnwriter George Matheson said, “There are times when I do well to be angry, but I have often mistaken the times.” There are times when it is proper to be angry, but we need to be very careful not to cross the line into wounded pride.

B. Venting your anger without control doesn’t relieve the anger or help others.

There are people who say, “Well, I’m just being honest with my feelings. I just blow up and then it’s all over.” So does a bomb, but look at the devastation it leaves behind. Simeon and Levi blew up and a whole village got slaughtered. But it didn’t solve their anger problem. Here, over 40 years later, Jacob characterizes them as angry men. He doesn’t say, “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel.” He says it is fierce and cruel. They were still angry men.

Uncontrolled anger results in senseless destruction of people and property. Think of the families these men ruined by murdering all the fathers. They hamstrung some of the oxen, an act of senseless waste. The word “self-will” (49:6) has the nuance of doing as they pleased. They weren’t concerned about anybody’s feelings except their own. Most anger stems from selfishness. “I didn’t get my way and I want my way! I demand my rights!” But that kind of anger doesn’t help anybody, not even the person who is angry.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the number one predictor in cardiovascular disease--more important than cholesterol--is mismanaged anger (in Los Angeles magazine, March, 1988, p. 124). It also states that anger arousal is toxic to the body and that 90 percent of anger is unjustified. So, contrary to popular thought, it isn’t healthy to vent your anger.

Neither is it healthy to deny that you are angry when you are. Many Christians, who don’t want to admit their sinful anger, smile and say, “I’m not angry” when really, they’re seething inside. They won’t admit it, even to themselves. Another wrong response is to clam up by holding your anger in and not showing it. You realize that you’re angry, but you try to cover it from others. But sooner or later it blows out somewhere, often over trivial things.

Let me make two other observations about anger and then I’ll mention briefly how to deal with it.

C. Uncontrolled anger creates distance in relationships.

That’s not news, but it needs to be said. If you want close relationships, especially in your family, you’ve got to bring your anger under the control of God’s Spirit. Jacob here distances himself from these two angry sons (49:6) and prophesies that they will be dispersed and scattered in Israel. That was fulfilled as the tribe of Simeon later inherited land scattered throughout Judah’s territory (Josh. 19:1-9; see also 1 Chron. 4:28-33, 39, 42). The tribe of Levi became priests, who had no inheritance, but were scattered throughout the rest of the tribal lands.

The point is, you can’t get close to angry people. It’s like snuggling up to a time bomb--you never know when it’s going to explode and tear you to bits. So you learn to keep your distance in order to survive. If you want to have a close family, you’ve got to learn to deal with your anger in a godly manner.

D. Uncontrolled anger is passed on in a family.

Jacob here isn’t just talking about his sons, but about their descendants. Anger gets handed down from generation to genera­tion. It’s interesting that Moses was a descendant of Levi. What problem kept Moses from beginning his work at first and then from entering the promised land? Anger! He got angry and murdered the Egyptian who was mistreating the Hebrews and had to flee to the desert for 40 years. Then he got angry at the people and struck the rock to bring forth water, when God had told him to speak to the rock. For that sin, God prevented Moses from entering Canaan. Moses was the son of Levi.

I’ve told you before about how the Lord nailed me with this truth. Christa was a toddler, barely talking. She was in her car seat and I came around a bend in the road and almost rear-ended a car that had stopped to look at the scenery. As I slammed on my brakes and hit my horn, I yelled, “You stupid jerk!” From the back seat came a little voice, imitating daddy, “You stupid jerk!” It was like a sword piercing my soul! My sweet little girl tainted by my sin!

Christian counselor Jay Adams has estimated that sinful anger is involved in 90 percent of all counseling problems. It’s a major problem. How should we deal with our anger? I can’t be thorough, but let me give a sketchy outline.

1) I need to confess my anger as sin before God, others, and myself. Confession of sin and accepting responsibility for it is always the first step toward victory. This means that I stop excusing it and blaming others for it. It may help to analyze your anger. When Cain got angry, God asked him, “Why are you angry?” God didn’t need the information; He wanted Cain to think about it (see also Jonah 4:4, 9). Usually I must admit, “I’m angry because I didn’t get my way.” That’s embarrassing, but true!

2) I must bow before the sovereignty of God. All anger is ultimately directed at the Sovereign God. You may say, “No, I’m angry at my parents who mistreated me,” or, “I’m angry at my mate who is so selfish.” But God sovereignly gave you your parents and your mate. If you’re mad at them, you’re really not in submission to God’s sovereign dealings with you. God will use difficult people to make you more like Jesus if you will bow thankfully before Him.

3) Memorize Scriptures that deal with anger. As the psalmist said, “Your word I have hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). Here’s how this works: You’ve memorized James 1:19, 20: “But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Somebody did something you didn’t like and you’re just ready to let fly with some choice words, when the Lord brings that verse to mind. You slow down, ask for clarifica­tion, and then really listen as the other person explains his point of view. The verse also reminds you of your purpose, to minister God’s righteousness to others. By listening, you discover that the other person is an angry person who needs God’s love, and you’re able to bear witness to him. You avoided sinful anger.

4) Control your anger by walking moment by moment in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Outbursts of anger are listed as a deed of the flesh, but love, patience, kindness, and self-control are fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:19-23). You may protest, “I try to control my anger, but I just have a short fuse!” But by saying that, you’re not confessing it; you’re excusing it. Besides, you can control your anger. God’s Word says so and you have done it. You’re in the middle of a hot argument with your mate when the phone rings. It’s someone in the church. They ask, “How are you?” You respond in a cheery voice, “Oh, fine, fine!” You’re controlling your anger. We do it all the time when we want to, so it is possible.

5) Verbalize your angry feelings appropriately. There is no place for abusive speech (Col. 3:8). We are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). So you don’t need to yell or tear the other person to bits. You may need to confront him with his irresponsibility or need to change his behavior. But he’s much more likely to hear you if you don’t blast him. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” You want to use your tongue as a scalpel to heal, not as a sword to mutilate! Finally,

6) Take appropriate action to correct your anger. If selfishness is at the root of your anger, get involved in serving. If you’re bitter, do something kind for those who have wronged you. Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [yelling] and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32). When you turn from your problem passions and begin seeking the Lord, He will bless you:

3. When family members turn to the Lord, a seeming curse can be turned into a blessing.

Jacob predicted that Simeon and Levi would be scattered in Israel because of their anger, and they were. But the tribe of Levi turned to the Lord, and their scattering was a great blessing to them and to others, as they became the priestly tribe, who taught God’s ways to the others. Moses and Aaron were Levites, the sons of godly parents. Many other Levites down through Israel’s history were greatly used of God: Phinehas, whose godly zeal stemmed a plague (Num. 25:11-13); Ezra, who helped restore the nation after the captivity; John the Baptist, who prepared the way of the Lord. Because the Levites turned to the Lord, this seeming curse was turned into a blessing.


What God did for them, He will do for you. You and your family can inherit a blessing and become a blessing to others if you will deal with the problem passions of lust and anger. Right now, each of us is either blaming others for our sin and rationalizing it with all sorts of reasons why we are the way we are or, we’re confessing it and striving against it in the power of the Holy Spirit, in obedience to Christ. It’s always a painful struggle to face up to my own sin and to change. But it’s God’s way. The pain is worth the gain, as your children and grandchildren will rise up and called you blessed. And your life will bring glory to the Savior who died to free us from every sin.

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss: Lust always is entertained in the mind long before it is enacted with the body.
  2. It is a sign of spiritual and emotional immaturity to be angry at another person. Agree/disagree?
  3. My parents taught me that anger was .... What are you teaching your kids about anger?
  4. All anger can and must be controlled. Agree/disagree?
  5. Is it always good to verbalize your anger, or is suppression sometimes sufficient?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1997

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Home, Discipleship, Hamartiology (Sin), Sexual Purity, Spiritual Life

Lesson 81: Ancient Prophecies And You (Genesis 49:8-21)

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I have always found it curious that both Christians and non-Christians are fascinated with prophecy. When I was in the Coast Guard, one evening as I sat on the bridge radio watch, the chief came up to get some paperwork and saw that I was reading the Bible. He was a raw, foul-mouthed pagan, but he said to me, “You ought to read ‘Revelations.’ It’s really _____!” (He used a word I won’t repeat, which meant that it was good reading). People who are not informed always call it “Revelations” [plural], instead of “The Revelation” [singular] which is the title. But I thought it interesting that this man was intrigued by the very prophecy that predicts his impending doom if he does not repent!

To be interested in prophecy is good, since much of the Bible is prophetic. But the point of Bible prophecy is not to speculate on various details, such as the identity of the antichrist or the date of Armageddon. The point of prophecy is to motivate us to purity and holy zeal for the things of the Lord in light of His soon coming.

We need to exercise some caution when we study biblical prophecy. While God has revealed His future program in the Scriptures, our human limitations often prevent us from understanding it clearly until after the fact. For example, the first coming of Christ was specifically revealed in many prophecies in the Old Testament. After the fact, we can see very clearly that the Christ had to suffer and then enter into His glory (Luke 24:26, 46). But the wisest Jewish scholars of Christ’s day and even His own disciples missed this major theme of the Old Testament prophecies! It was only when the risen Savior taught them about these things after the fact that they began to understand. Thus we need to be careful, in reference to Christ’s second coming, not to be overly dogmatic about the specifics and miss the reason those prophecies were given, to move us to greater purity and hope.

When you come to Jacob’s prophecies regarding his sons (Genesis 49), you have to ask, “What was the purpose of these prophecies for these men?” Most of them did not live long enough to see them fulfilled. Judah is predicted to become the leader, with his father’s sons bowing down to him (49:8). But in his lifetime, Judah and his brothers continued to bow down before Joseph (50:18). So why did Jacob reveal these things to his sons? Another important question is, “Why did Moses think these prophecies significant enough to record them in Genesis, as the fledgling nation was about to enter Canaan?” With those questions answered, we may be able to answer the relevant issue for us, namely, “How do these prophecies apply to us?”

I found this section difficult to study because commentators interpreted the specifics of these prophecies differently. Those who ventured to apply them to modern readers had, at times, opposite interpretations and applications. Some said that Zebulun was in danger of worldliness because of living near Sidon; others said that he would be strong because of his great location on the trade route. Some said that Issachar was lazy and indifferent; others said that he was a hard worker. Some said that Dan was deceptive like a snake; others said that he was strong through cleverness and subtlety.

I can’t preach with conviction on things that are speculative or uncertain. To be powerful enough to dislodge sin from my heart and yours, an application must clearly come from the text of Scripture. For that reason, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on what each of these prophecies mean. You can read the commentaries if you want that. Rather, I’m going to attempt to answer the broader questions of what these prophecies meant to Jacob’s sons and to Moses’s readers, and from that to draw some applications for us.

What was the purpose of these prophecies for Jacob’s sons?

As I mentioned, none of the sons of Jacob lived to see the fulfillment of these prophecies. They all died in Egypt. So why did Jacob give them these words? The text gives us some clues: Verse 28 states that these were blessings appropriate to each man. Furthermore, verse 1 states that these blessings were predictions of what would befall each son in the future, which implies beyond their lifetimes. From these clues we can draw some broad purposes for Jacob’s words to his sons.

First, these words showed Jacob’s sons that God was going to build their families into tribes and those tribes into a nation. Furthermore, from the tribe of Judah would come a ruler to whom would be the obedience of the peoples (49:10). So Jacob was raising their vision from their current circumstances--a bunch of families trying to survive in Egypt-- to show them God’s plan for history and how they and their families fit into that plan.

A second effect of these prophecies on Jacob’s sons was to show them that their character affected their own and their descendants destinies. These prophecies were based in part on Jacob’s observations of each of his sons over their lifetimes. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of these men. Each prophecy takes into account the uniqueness of each son.

We’ve already seen how the prophecies concerning Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were linked to sins which they had not conquered. Judah’s name meant “praise,” and Jacob predicts that his brothers will praise him. Zebulun means “dwelling,” and he will dwell toward the sea. Issachar means “wages”; the prophecy concerning him has to do with his labor. Dan means “judge”; he will judge his people. Gad sounds like a Hebrew word for troop, or raiders. Four of the six Hebrew words of verse 19 are puns on his name.

Remember, for the Hebrews, names were significant. They often were given as prophecies or hopes for the child’s future. Here, in conjunction with Jacob’s observations of each of his sons, the Holy Spirit gives him prophetic insight into the direction each son’s character would lead each tribe descended from him. So Jacob’s sons should have learned that character affects destiny, not only for us, but for our descendants.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s kind of fatalistic! If God has determined a plan for each man and his descendants, then what can anybody do to thwart it? But, as we saw with Levi, when a man and his family turns to the Lord, even a seeming curse can be turned into a blessing. Jacob predicted that Levi would be scattered in Israel, and that proved true. But Levi’s descendants were scattered as priests who were channels for God’s truth to be disseminated among Israel. It was the same with each of these sons and their prophecies. While God’s overall plan was fixed, each individual had the opportunity to turn to the Lord and be used of Him in blessing the nations. It’s the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God’s plan is irrevocable, but He gives us moral responsibility, so that we can choose to participate in His plan or turn against it. So within these broad prophecies, Jacob was encouraging his sons and their sons after them to follow in the Lord’s ways. The second question is:

What was the purpose of these prophecies for Moses’s first readers?

Moses wrote Genesis for a fledgling nation of stubborn and often unbelieving people who were poised on the edge of Canaan, ready to go in and conquer this land which God had promised to Abraham and his descendants. They were a selfish lot, who easily could have lost the land by getting in foolish squabbles with each other. They were a worldly-minded bunch, who could easily get into the land, settle down to enjoy the material comforts, and forget the Lord and His purpose for them. So, many of the same purposes which these prophecies had for Jacob’s sons applied to Moses’s readers.

For one thing, Moses wanted his readers to view their current circumstances in the light of Gods plan. They faced some difficult battles in order to conquer Canaan. It wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. If the nation lost sight of God’s promise to give that land to Abraham’s descendants and to use them to bless all nations through the promised Savior, they could easily have lost heart and settled in a less threatening region. Or, they could have blended in with the wicked Canaanites and God’s purpose would have been thwarted.

Once they got into the land, they easily could have started quarrelling over who got which piece of real estate. Moses’s reporting of Jacob’s prophecies showed Israel that each tribe had a different inheritance from the Lord. So they needed to be content with His provision and not fight over who got what.

These prophecies also illustrated an important lesson about how God works. Picture Jacob going down the line, from son to son. Reuben is deprived of his right as the firstborn because of his sin. Simeon and Levi are denounced for their violence and anger. Guess who’s next? Judah! All the brothers knew the skeletons in Judah’s closet. He had been involved in the shameful incident with Tamar (chapter 38). Judah was the one who suggested selling Joseph into slavery, to make a buck and to salve their consciences because they didn’t kill him. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were probably thinking, “We got what we deserved. Now Judah’s going to get his!” And Judah was probably thinking, “Oh, no! Here it comes!”

But what happened? Jacob pronounced the greatest blessing of all on Judah! Only Joseph’s blessing was of equal length, but even it didn’t rival the extent of Judah’s blessing. Why? Two reasons:

First, it illustrated that Gods choice is according to His grace, not human merit. If God’s choice were according to merit, He would have chosen Esau over Jacob, and Joseph over Judah. But God’s choice is apart from human merit so that no one can boast before God. Moses wanted his readers to see that if God chose to give them the best part of the land, so be it. But if He chose to put a tribe in a less favorable part of the land, they should not chafe against His purpose. That He should give them any part of the land was sheer grace, and they shouldn’t be envious of their brothers.

Second, at the same time it showed that when a man turns to the Lord in repentance, the Lord will bless him. Judah had truly repented of his sin. He confessed before Joseph, “What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants” (44:16). His eloquent, heartfelt appeal to Joseph, asking that he be substituted for Benjamin, had revealed the depth of Judah’s repentance. Moses wanted his readers to know that no matter how great their past sin, if they would now turn to the Lord in repentance, the Lord would bless them greatly by His grace.

A final reason Moses shared these prophecies with his readers was to instill in them the hope of Gods salvation through the Messiah. One would rise up from the tribe of Judah, and to Him would be the obedience of the people. Even though some great men would come from some of the tribes and do great exploits, true deliverance would come only from the Lord.

That seems to be the thought behind Jacob’s sudden prayer in verse 18. He has just spoken of Dan, who would defeat his enemies through subtle power, as a snake bites a horse’s heel. That may have recalled to Jacob’s mind the early prediction of the seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s heel (3:15). Or, it could have reminded him of his own deception as the one who grabbed his brother’s heel. So he sighs, in effect, “Salvation won’t come through the mighty men of Dan. Neither will it come from any man, but only from the Lord.” This is the first of 78 occurrences the word “salvation” in the Old Testament. It is the Hebrew word “yeshua,” Jesus. Jacob’s prayer was finally answered when the angel said to Joseph, husband of Mary, that she would bring forth a son, and that he should call his name Jesus [Yeshua]; for He shall save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

Let’s move on to the most relevant question:

What is the purpose of these prophecies for us?

Based upon the purpose of these prophecies for Jacob’s sons and for Moses’s first readers, it seems to me that the bottom line for us is:

We must choose to cooperate with God’s plan which centers in Jesus Christ.

I want to make four statements about God’s plan which apply to each of us:

1. God has a plan for history.

I know, that’s obvious. But we lose sight of it so easily in the daily routine and pressures of life. Even as the Lord’s people, it’s easy to fall into the daily schedule of going to work, taking care of the kids, and dealing with all the hassles of life that we lose sight of God’s great purpose for history and how we fit into it. We become spiritually dull, so that we miss opportunities to further God’s plan.

We read about war or strife in some far corner of the world and we shrug our shoulders, when we ought to pray for God’s purpose to be done in those places. We hear of missionaries who lack support and we think, “That’s too bad.” But it never occurs to us that God may want us to cut back on our spending habits and invest in His work around the world. A neighbor shares a problem and we say, “I’m sorry to hear that.” But we don’t speak up to tell him or her about the Lord Jesus Christ, who wants to transfer him from the kingdom of darkness to His own kingdom where there is forgiveness of sins and hope for eternity.

These prophecies of Jacob remind us that while we may not understand all the details of the plan, God does have a plan. He is moving history ahead right on schedule toward the grand climax when Jesus Christ shall reign supreme, when every knee shall bow to the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We need to live each day in light of God’s great plan for history.

2. God has a plan for us within His plan for history.

Each of these brothers was unique. Each had a unique contribution to make to Israel’s history. While not all would be as Judah or Joseph, all were essential to God’s plan for Israel. They needed to see their roles as complementary, not competitive. I think this comes through in Jacob’s word to Dan, that he would “judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.” Why would Jacob say that? Because up to verse 16, he has been speaking of the sons of Leah, one of his two wives. But Dan is the first of the sons of Jacob’s concubines. In that culture, sons of concubines didn’t enjoy the full status of sons of wives. But Jacob assures Dan that he will have an inheritance and a role as one of the tribes of Israel.

That applies to each of us in the body of Christ. Some have one role, some another. Some have one measure of blessing on their lives, some another. But none is without a purpose. Each one complements the other, so that every member is essential for the outworking of God’s program. We don’t have to be just like each other or do the same thing. It’s not more spiritual to be in “full time” ministry as opposed to having a “secular” job. What matters is that you are doing what God wants you to do, in line with His plan for history. Keep your eyes off of others and on the Lord. That leads to the next application:

3. God’s plan centers on the person of Christ.

Gods plan is not a religious system. Gods plan centers on a Person and on our being rightly related to that Person. We are to follow Christ. Jacob’s prophecy to Judah points to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, descended from the tribe of Judah.

First, Jacob predicts preeminence and power for the tribe of Judah, comparing him to a lion. Then he predicts, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (49:10). Verses 11 and 12 go on to describe in poetic language the abundant prosperity that accompanies the reign of “Shiloh,” where wine will be as plentiful as water. This prophecy does not mean that Judah’s preeminence would end when Shiloh comes, but rather that it would continue until that time, after which it would continue in Shiloh.

The question is, of course, Who or what is Shiloh? Almost all commentators, Jewish and Christian, recognize this as some sort of reference to Messiah. But there is much debate on the specific meaning of the term. Let me share what seem to be the two best possibilities.

The word may be a contraction of two Hebrew words, meaning “he to whom.” Thus the meaning would be, “until he comes to whom it [rightful authority] belongs.” This is the way the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament, translated about 200 B.C.) took it and the NIV has adopted it as well. Or, the word may be a proper name for Messiah, stemming from the Hebrew verb meaning “to be quiet or at rest.” Thus it would look at Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the only one who can bring peace to this troubled world and rest to our souls, because He alone can reconcile us to God, having made peace through the cross. It is only when we are in obedience to Him that we have rest in our souls.

But however we interpret “Shiloh,” the important thing is that we recognize that God’s plan involves a Person who is coming to reign. That Person must be descended from the tribe of Judah. Over 300 other prophecies from the Old Testament show that Jesus Christ alone meets the qualifications of being the promised Savior. Each of us must be rightly related to Him. That leads to the final point:

4. God’s plan requires our response if we want to share in His blessings.

In God’s time and way, these prophecies about Jacob’s sons would be fulfilled, but the individuals within the tribes had a choice about whether they would help to fulfill them through obedience to God or fight against their fulfillment through disobedience.

It’s the same with us: God’s plan for the ages will be accomplished, but we have the choice either to be involved in fulfilling that plan or in resisting it. The personal history of Judah ought to encourage us. He was a man who had a dismal beginning, but who repented of his sin and inherited a great future. God offers that same blessing to each of us. If we will turn from our sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, sent from God in fulfillment of this prophecy uttered by Jacob, God will bless us beyond measure.


Someone recently asked me if I understand the Book of Revelation. I answered, “I don’t understand many of the details, but I do understand the main idea, which is that Jesus is coming back and He’s going to win big!” Even if you don’t understand some of the details of Bible prophecy, such as these words of Jacob, you can clearly understand the big picture: Jesus is Lord, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5), and when He comes, you’d better be on His side! He is gracious toward every sinner who repents and trusts in Him, but He will be fierce in wrath and judgment toward all who have ignored Him or opposed Him. You can either bow before Him someday in awful judgment or bow before Him willingly now as your Savior and Lord.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have Christians “over-speculated” concerning prophecy? How do we know how far to push prophetic interpretations?
  2. How can a Christian in a secular job keep his focus on God’s kingdom in the face of daily pressures?
  3. How can we relate the dull and routine parts of life to God’s plan for us? Are routine things only to be endured for the “more spiritual” times? Why/why not?
  4. How can a person find his own “niche” in the body of Christ, neither thinking too highly of himself, nor underestimating what God wants to do through him (see Rom. 12:3)?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Prophecy/Revelation, Spiritual Life