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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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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

Lesson 82: A Father’s Blessing (Genesis 49:22-28)

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Several years ago, when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s longstanding record for the most career hits, a reporter asked him what he thought about as he stood on base with the whole stadium on its feet cheering wildly. Rose said that he thought that his dad was probably looking down from heaven and was pleased with him. Of all the things Pete Rose could think about at that moment, as a grown man he was still thinking about his father’s approval.

God has given those of us who are fathers a unique and powerful role to fulfill with our children. We influence them greatly, either for good or for ill. Some children grow up and vow that they will not be like their dads. They spend their whole lives reacting against their fathers. But even then the father is exerting a strong influence over the child. Hope­fully, as Christian fathers, we will bless our children with a rich legacy of the things of God so that they will want to follow Him all their lives.

I want to talk about how we, as dads, can impart God’s blessing to our children. If you aren’t a dad, the message still applies to you, since what I’m really talking about is relationships. We all have a responsibility to be channels of God’s blessing to others. So if you’re a mother or even if you don’t have children, these things apply to you. But I’m directing my comments to fathers, since our text tells of a father imparting his blessing to his sons.

In Genesis 49, the dying patriarch Jacob imparts his final blessing to his 12 sons. The verses we’re considering tell of his blessing on Joseph and Benjamin, his two sons by his beloved wife Rachel. While Judah received the higher blessing in that the Messiah would come from his family line (49:10), the most full blessing is reserved for the beloved Joseph. Jacob pulls out all the stops and the blessings gush forth in a torrent. The words “bless” or “blessing” occur six times in verses 25 & 26. It shows us that …

God wants us to impart His blessing to our children.

Genesis 49:22-28 shows us four ways we can bless our children:

1. To bless your children, help them interpret life in light of God’s perspective.

Derek Kidner observes (Genesis [IVP], p. 221) that the thought here “moves from the present, the summer of Joseph’s days, back to the stresses of the past, and behind both to God, whose array of titles forms the rich centrepiece of the oracle. Then His profusion of blessings is called down on Joseph, carrying the thought on into the future.” Jacob uses the metaphor of a fruitful vine planted by a spring to describe Joseph’s present situation. Then he uses the metaphor of an archer under attack to describe Joseph’s past trials. The two metaphors are tied together by showing that the reason for Joseph’s present fruitfulness was that he had endured past trials in the strength of God, who is described by five different titles as His future blessings are invoked.

Jacob wasn’t telling Joseph anything new. Years before, while going through these trials, Joseph had realized that even though his brothers meant evil against him, God meant it for good (45:5-9; 50:20). Even when Joseph was falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten, he knew that God was sovereign. Here Jacob affirms Joseph’s interpretation of his life from God’s perspective. He is saying that Joseph was fruitful because he had endured these trials in God’s strength.

He uses the metaphor of a boy whose father is teaching him to shoot a bow and arrow. The boy isn’t strong enough to pull the bow back all the way and hold it steady on the target. So the father wraps his arms around the boy, puts his strong hands over the boy’s hands, pulls back the bowstring and aims it at the target. The boy is a strong archer because of his father’s strength. It’s a beautiful picture of being strong in the strength of God our Father. There are three lessons here that we fathers should impart to our children to help them interpret life from God’s perspective.

A. The lesson of fruitfulness

God wants His children to be fruitful. I believe that as American Christians, we wrongly encourage our kids to be successful, which is man-centered. We need to encourage them to be fruitful, which is God-centered. Life isn’t to be lived for ourselves. Jesus called us to bear much fruit (John 15). Just as Joseph’s fruitful vine ran over the wall, so that the Egyptians were blessed, so we need to teach our children our responsibility to be a blessing to people of other cultures who have not heard the good news of Christ. I encourage you to read to your kids the daily missions story in the “Global Prayer Digest” and to read missionary biographies so that they see examples of fruitful lives.

B. The lesson of strength

A second lesson is that our strength comes from the Lord, not from our­selves. Joseph’s vine was fruitful because it was planted near a spring. Its roots went down into that moist soil which nourished it even in times of drought. The archer under attack was strong because the mighty hands of God were placed over his hands. We need to teach our children that our strength is not from our­selves, but from the Lord. Our kids need to see that we daily go to God for strength from His Word. They need to see that through prayer we lay hold of God’s resources. As a father, you need to pray often with and for your children. Let them see that you are weak, but that the God you trust is mighty.

C. The lesson of trials

A godly life does not mean a life exempt from trials. In fact, fruitfulness often comes only through trials. Joseph was the most godly of Jacob’s sons, and yet he suffered the most. He was bitterly attacked by his brothers. Potiphar’s wife shot at him with her daily temptation to adultery. Potiphar harassed him by putting him in prison when he had done no wrong. The cupbearer forgot his promise to mention Joseph to Pharaoh. And yet Joseph came through it all with a lack of bitterness toward God or toward any of those who had wronged him because he trusted in the sovereign, loving God.

Our kids need to know that while following God has its benefits, it also has its trials. We don’t follow the Lord just because of what we get out of it. We follow the Lord because He is the living God and His Word is the truth. We communicate this through our example. Are we committed to the Lord as long as everything is going well, but we fall away when problems hit? Do we complain about people who have wronged us and gripe about the trials we encounter? If so, our kids aren’t going to learn to trust in our sovereign, loving God. To bless your children, help them to interpret all of life, including life’s trials, from God’s perspective.

2. To bless your children, walk in personal reality with God.

There’s nothing that turns kids away from the Lord more than to have a father who preaches religion but who does not truly walk with God. I’m convinced that the greatest thing we can do to help our children go on with the Lord is for us to walk in personal reality with God. I’m not talking about perfection, but a humble faith that relates God to every aspect of life.

Jacob was far from a perfect father. His relationship with God had its ups and downs. And yet in spite of his problems, Jacob did know God personally. Here he is bold enough to call God “the Mighty One of Jacob,” “the stone of Israel” (Jacob’s God-given name), “the God of your father” (49:24, 25). Years before, Jacob had referred to God as the God of his father and the God of Abraham (31:5, 42). But now Jacob calls God his God. These names of God reflect Jacob’s personal relationship with God.

They also show that Jacob had trusted God in the practical situations of life. He had learned who God is by depending on Him in the crises of life. Jacob was a schemer, but God had taught him that his schemes were worthless. God had proven Himself mighty in protecting Jacob from the anger of Esau and Laban, both of whom could have killed him. God again proved Himself mighty in keeping the Canaanites from attacking Jacob after his sons had slaughtered the Shechemites. God had led Jacob as a Shepherd, protecting him from danger and guiding him in the paths of righteousness. (The phrase, “from there” [49:24] is probably an emphatic way of saying that God is the source of everything implied by these various names.) Through the trials of the loss of Joseph and the famine, when he thought he might lose all his sons and even his own life, Jacob had learned to rely on God as a rock, a sure foundation on whom he might stand firm.

Jacob knew that God not only was his help, but also the One who could help his sons (“the God of your father who helps you,” [49:25]). That’s an important lesson of faith for parents, when you learn that God can be the God of your children and that you entrust them to His care. If you’re from a Christian home, you need to learn the lesson both Jacob and Joseph learned, that their father’s God could be their God, too. Each child must at some point in life personalize his father’s faith into his own relationship with God.

Jacob also had come to know God as “El Shaddai,” God Almighty, the name by which God revealed Himself to Abraham (17:1). Scholars are divided on how to translate that name. Some say it comes from a root word meaning “breast,” thus pointing to God as the all-sufficient one from whom we draw our nourishment and sustenance. (The Hebrew word “shad” [breasts] occurs at the end of 49:25.) Others say it comes from a word meaning “mountain,” thus pointing to God’s strength, stability, and permanence. The name seems to be used in Genesis in situations where God’s servants are hard-pressed and needing reassurance (Kidner, p. 129). Thus it emphasizes God’s might in contrast with the frailty of man. At this time when Jacob knew that he was dying, he wanted his son to know God as the Almighty who would bless him with all that he needed in the future.

So through these names by which Jacob refers to God, we see that he had learned to know God in a personal, practical way through the trials of life. He had trusted God and found Him faithful. Jacob’s God was a big God, the Mighty One, the Almighty, who was greater than the Canaanites’ gods, greater than Pharaoh’s gods, in spite of what outward appearances may imply. In contrast with the pagan Canaanites, who possessed the land, and the successful Egyptians, Jacob was dying as a poor refugee shepherd, without having realized God’s promises concerning the land of Canaan. But in spite of these outward appearances of the apparent success of the world and the failure of God’s promises, Jacob went out by handing his sons the torch of faith in a mighty God who would certainly fulfill His promises.

So, to bless your children, help them interpret life in light of God’s perspective and walk in personal reality with the Almighty God.

3. To bless your children, observe their strengths and point them out to them.

Jacob saw that Joseph’s strength was his fruitfulness that came from trusting God through suffering. He saw that Benjamin’s strength was his fierceness against his adversaries, as he compares him to a ravenous wolf. This was not intended as a put-down, although there is an inherent warning in the metaphor. Jacob has already compared Judah to a lion, Issachar to a donkey, Dan to a snake, and Naphtali to a doe. Each of these metaphors focused on the particular strength of that animal. The lion is powerful; the donkey is a strong worker; the snake, through its subtlety is able to fell a powerful horse; and the deer is graceful and free. Now, Benjamin the wolf is persistent (“morning and evening”) and fierce in defeating his enemies.

While each of these blessings was prophetic, they were also based on Jacob’s careful observation of each of his sons. He could see their strengths and he built a word picture for each son based on these Spirit-inspired insights. Three applications:

A. Know your child.

That may sound obvious, but often parents do not really know their children. They may live in the same household, but with busy, conflicting schedules and very little time together without the TV blaring, many fathers are strangers to their children and their children to them.

The fact is, God has given each child from birth a special “bent” or set of personality traits. Before I had children, I thought that I could shape my child’s personality. I didn’t realize that they come with built-in software from the womb! While you can shape the child within his basic bent, you can’t change the bent.

I’ve heard parents say, “I don’t know where we went wrong with our kids. We treated them all just the same.” That’s where they went wrong with their kids! Kids are not the same! They’re all wired differently, they develop at their own rates, and they need to be trained in accordance with their unique personal­ities. You have to be sensitive to each child’s differences.

You also see parents who assume that their child should be just like them. A dad loves sports. He puts a football in his kid’s crib. But the kid is artistic and loves music. If that dad loves his son and is smart, he’s going to learn to love music for the sake of his son and not push the boy toward a career in the NFL.

Another way we deny the uniqueness of our children and show that we really don’t know them is by comparing them with each other. One child is an organized, motivated student who gets his homework done without prodding. His brother is scatterbrained and laid back. We shout at him, “Why can’t you do your homework like your brother?” Answer: Because he’s not his brother.

So, get to know your child by spending time with each one, observing him, listening to him, finding out how he or she has been uniquely made by God.

B. Tell your children about their strengths and warn them of their weaknesses.

Most of us are better at giving warnings than at giving praise. But we need to focus on strengths whenever we can, to “catch our kids doing something right.” It doesn’t have to be big things, like making straight A’s. Maybe for once they didn’t talk back or they didn’t fight with their brother. Tell them how much you appreciate it. Don’t just focus on behavior, but also on attitudes.

Often, a person’s greatest strength is also the source of his greatest weakness. A strong leader can also be very stubborn. An organized person can be too rigid. A compassionate person can be gullible. Here, Benjamin the fierce wolf of a warrior could see, upon reflection, that he must guard against being too combative. In fact, this proved to be the case in the history of this tribe in Israel (see Judges 19-21).

We need to encourage our children by pointing out their strengths, but we also need to give them correction and reproof when necessary. That can be in the form of preventative warnings, based on our observations of their strengths and corresponding weaknesses. When you do have to correct, make sure you do it to help them, not just to vent your frustration. Don’t ever correct by putting them down, but rather from the standpoint that you want to help them become all that God wants them to be.

C. Recognize the importance of a father’s words.

The Bible teaches that words have the power either to build up or to tear down. As someone has said, “To speak of ‘mere words’ is like speaking of ‘mere dynamite.’“ That’s especially true of a father’s words to his children. They’re looking primarily to you for a blessing, for words that show acceptance and approval. If your words constantly put them down through criticism or sarcasm, it’s like beating on them over and over with a stick. On the other hand, kind, encouraging words that picture how the Lord can use your children, can have a powerful effect on them.

The great British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, tells of a time when he was ten years old when a traveling preacher stayed in Spurgeon’s grandfather’s parson­age. The man took time on three successive days to spend with this boy, telling him of Christ’s love and praying, with his arms around the boy’s neck, that he might know and serve the Lord. Then, one morning when the whole family was gathered for prayer, this preacher took ten-year-old Charles, sat him on his knee, and prophesied, “This child will one day preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes. I am persuaded that he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill, ...” He called all present to witness what he had said and then gave Charles a coin as a reward if he would learn the hymn, God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”

Years later, that prophecy was fulfilled. Spurgeon comments, “Did the words of Mr. Knill help to bring about their own fulfillment? I think so. I believed them, and looked forward to the time when I should preach the Word” (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [The Banner of Truth Trust, 1:28]). He goes on to say that he wasn’t even yet converted, but those words spurred him on to seek the Lord’s salvation.

I never had anything that dramatic happen to me, but I do remember an old man, Mr. Benton, who was my third grade Sunday School teacher. He used to say, “Steve’s going to be a pastor some day.” I used to think, “Naw, I’m going to play major league baseball someday.” But he was right!

4. To bless your children, impart to them spiritual blessings above all else.

At first glance it may seem as if Jacob is wishing material, not spiritual, blessings on Joseph. He mentions the blessings of heaven above, which refers to the rain and sunshine; the blessings of the deep, which refers to springs and rivers; the blessings of the breasts and of the womb, which refers both to many children and to the multiplication of flocks and herds. Verse 26 probably means that the blessings Jacob is bestowing on Joseph were greater than Jacob had received from his ancestors. His prayer is that these blessings would be as great as the mountains.

But the implication is that these blessings would not merely be temporal, but as everlasting as these ancient mountains. When you remember that Joseph, as second to Pharaoh, probably had all the material wealth he could want, you can see that Jacob was praying that his son would have the unlimited blessings of the covenant promises of God, in contrast to the riches of Egypt which he now enjoyed. He is saying, “God’s promised blessings are greater than anything the world has to offer.”

It’s tragic when Christians encourage their kids to pursue worldly success ahead of the blessings of God. If we push our kids toward careers that will make a lot of money or bring them status or fame, if we’re more concerned that our sons excel in sports and our daughters in beauty than that they excel in the things of God, we’re not imparting God’s blessing to them. We need to give them as heroes the great men and women of God who have taken the good news of Christ to those who are lost.

Conclusion

Last year, the Arizona Republic (6/15/97) reported that they asked their readers to tell them stories about their fathers so they could write a heartwarming Fathers Day story. The problem was, nobody called, except for a few who wanted to tell the paper what jerks their fathers were. That wasn’t quite what they had in mind!

Well, that’s the world. But what about in the church? Are we as Christian dads imparting God’s blessing to our children? Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect human father, because we’re all sinners. But perfection isn’t the requirement--reality with God is. Our kids need God’s blessing imparted through us. We give it to them by walking daily with God and by helping them do the same.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the difference between success and fruitfulness? Is this distinction important in relation to child rearing? Why?
  2. Why are so many American men spiritually passive? How can a man overcome this?
  3. How can a father who feels inadequate get started in leading his family spiritually?
  4. What are some practical ways a parent who struggles with abusive speech can learn to speak words that build up his/her children?

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, Engage, Fathers, Parenting, Spiritual Life

20. O Cântico de Salvação de Davi (2 Samuel 22)

Introdução

Conforme estudo os dois salmos de Davi em 2 Samuel 22 (inteiro) e 23 (versos 1 a 7), lembro-me de nossos queridos amigos Karl e Martha Lind. Karl atualmente1 está na casa dos 80 anos e está em uma casa de saúde com problemas do coração e falência renal. Ele enfrenta a doença com coragem, aguardando a partida para o lar celestial. Minhas lembranças dele são bem antigas, e algumas ainda estão muito vívidas em minha memória. Quando eu e Jeannette nos casamos, tínhamos muito pouco dinheiro, por isso, passamos a noite do quarto dia da nossa lua de mel no quarto de hóspedes da casa deles. Na manhã seguinte, Karl e Martha tinham preparado um belo café da manhã, e um de seus filhos, John, recebeu a tarefa de anunciá-lo pelo interfone. “O café da manhã será servido na sala de jantar em cinco minutos”, disse ele, com toda formalidade que, como adolescente, conseguiu reunir. Pouco depois, antes do botão do interfone tocar, ouviu-se um barulho terrível, como se todos os pratos do armário tivessem quebrado, e em seguida a voz de Karl – “John!”.

Karl é um excelente cozinheiro. Para descrever o jeito como alguém menos experiente fazia seu serviço, ele dizia: “Quando fumega, ‘tá cozinhando; quando queima, ‘tá pronto”. Há alguns anos, seu pastor fez uma pregação sobre administração, indo em seguida para a porta dos fundos para receber os cumprimentos da igreja. Quando Karl se aproximou dele, o pastor (vou chamá-lo de Chuck, para evitar constrangimentos) ficou na expectativa, aguardando algum comentário favorável sobre o seu sermão. Sem meias palavras, Karl olhou-o nos olhos e disse: “Chuck, da forma como vejo, seus sermões fazem um rombo de 25 pratas no meu bolso. E, francamente, nós dois sabemos que eles não valem isso”. Esse é Karl, o nosso querido amigo de muitos anos.

Karl desempenhou um papel significativo em outra lembrança da minha infância, a fundação de uma igreja em Auburn, Washington, Estados Unidos. Meus pais, ele, Martha e uma porção de outras pessoas tiveram o privilégio de participar da fundação daquela que foi chamada de “Igreja Batista Bíblica”. Na minha pré-adolescência, lembro-me nitidamente de ter participado de um culto fúnebre num pequeno salão (durante a oração dei uma espiada em volta, curioso para saber onde colocavam os corpos)2, o qual depois se transformou em um salão maior e, finalmente, no auditório que veio a se tornar o primeiro prédio da nossa igreja. Com a força dada por Deus no que parece ser o último capítulo da sua vida, Karl começou a registrar suas lembranças dos primórdios da Igreja Batista Bíblica de Auburn. No final da vida, ele está olhando para trás e traçando o curso da mão de Deus no passado.

É isso o que o rei Davi faz nos dois salmos do fim de 2 Samuel. O capítulo 22 registra suas reflexões, escritas no início do seu reinado sobre Israel3. Os primeiros sete versos do capítulo 23 são um segundo salmo; este talvez seja o último salmo de Davi. Dizem que essa reflexão inspirada no final do seu reinado contém suas últimas palavras como rei de Israel. Juntos, os dois salmos nos dão uma avaliação inspirada da ação de Deus sobre sua vida como rei de Israel, desde o início do seu reinado até seus últimos dias.

Como já disse — e como podem verificar pela maioria das traduções — as palavras do texto são poesia hebraica, dois salmos se quiserem. Na verdade, 2 Samuel 22 é literalmente idêntico ao Salmo 18, com pouquíssimas variações. Os dois salmos são cânticos de Davi4. Na realidade, 2 Samuel 22 é seu salmo mais antigo5. Tanto na forma quanto no conteúdo, eles não são novos ou originais, mas seguem a tradição dos salmos anteriores. Alguns deles são:

  • O cântico de Israel junto ao mar (Êxodo 15:1-18)
  • O cântico de Moisés (Deuteronômio 32:1-43)
  • O cântico de Débora (Juízes 5)
  • O cântico de Ana (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
  • O cântico de Davi (2 Samuel 22; Salmo 18)
  • O cântico de Habacuque (Habacuque 3:1-19)

Mesmo uma leitura superficial dos cânticos acima mostrará sua semelhança com o salmo de Davi, objeto do nosso estudo. Em nosso texto, o salmo faz parte de uma narrativa histórica6. No livro dos Salmos (Salmo 18), este mesmo cântico é empregado como padrão para o culto de Israel, um padrão tão útil para nós como foi para os antigos israelitas. Ele foi registrado para ser cantado (talvez precise ser musicado, uma vez que a melodia já se perdeu), aprendido e proclamado no culto7. Em 2 Samuel 23:1-2, somos relembrados de que os salmos foram escritos sob inspiração do Espírito Santo. Eles devem ser levados a sério, não só pelos leitores antigos, mas também por nós.

Síntese do Salmo

Um salmo normalmente é visto como a essência ou a condensação de um conjunto mais complexo de verdades ou declarações. Nada contra, mas gostaria de salientar que um salmo também pode funcionar de outra forma. Às vezes, ele é a expansão de um pensamento simples, por meio de paralelismo e repetição. Por exemplo, Davi poderia simplesmente dizer que Deus é o nosso refúgio, mas em vez disso, nos versos 2 e 3, ele emprega oito figuras diferentes para descrever o Senhor. A mensagem do capítulo 22 é realmente muito simples e pode ser reduzida a umas poucas sentenças. Vou tentar fazê-lo, a fim de tornar a mensagem do salmo mais clara; em seguida, para apreciá-la, daremos mais consideração a esses versos.

1-3

Louvo a Deus, pois só Ele me mantém seguro.

4-20

Quando O invoco, Ele me salva. Quando em perigo; clamei a Deus e Ele me ouviu, e me livrou.

21-29

Deus me salvou por causa da minha justiça.

30-46

Deus me salvou, dando-me força para lutar e prevalecer sobre meus inimigos.

47-50

Louvado seja Deus!

51

Deus salva o rei, o Seu Rei, o Seu Ungido.

Nossa Abordagem Nesta Lição

Quando eu estava estudando este texto, também li alguns sermões sobre esta passagem disponíveis na Internet, publicados pela Peninsula Bible Church, na Califórnia. Em geral, os sermões desse site têm metade dos meus (talvez porque eu leve o dobro do tempo para dizer a mesma coisa). Quando peguei as lições do Salmo 18, acho que a passagem foi dividida de forma a expor o salmo durante seis aulas. E pensar que vou fazer isso de uma só vez! Nesta lição, nossa tarefa principal será explanar a ideia central do salmo, evitando muitos detalhes, embora isso possa ser útil. Tentarei seguir o fluxo de pensamento de Davi para ver a quais conclusões o autor/rei inspirado nos leva.

A Mensagem do Salmo — O Libertador de Davi (2 Samuel 22:1-3)

Falou Davi ao SENHOR as palavras deste cântico, no dia em que o SENHOR o livrou das mãos de todos os seus inimigos e das mãos de Saul. E disse: O SENHOR é a minha rocha, a minha cidadela8, o meu libertador; o meu Deus, o meu rochedo em que me refugio; o meu escudo, a força da minha salvação, o meu baluarte e o meu refúgio. Ó Deus, da violência tu me salvas.

No primeiro verso, temos o contexto histórico deste cântico de Davi. O salmo foi escrito após Deus tê-lo livrado das mãos de seus inimigos e das mãos de Saul. Parece, então, que ele foi escrito logo após a morte de Saul e no início do reinado de Davi. Davi está no trono, e desse ponto privilegiado, ele medita sobre o cuidado gracioso de Deus sobre a sua vida em cumprimento à promessa de que ele seria rei de Israel.

O referido salmo começa com Davi louvando a Deus por quem Ele é — seu refúgio. Empregando uma porção de símbolos, ele fala de Deus como seu lugar seguro. Deus é sua rocha (ou penhasco, v. 2). Sem dúvida, Davi passou muito tempo nos penhascos, olhando lá do alto, sabendo que era praticamente inacessível a seus inimigos. Deus é sua “cidadela” e sua “fortaleza”. Ele é seu “escudo” e a “força da sua salvação”. Tais figuras não são meramente ilustrativas, são os próprios meios empregados por Deus para salvar a vida de Davi das mãos dos seus inimigos. E agora, Davi nos exorta a olhar para além dos meios empregados por Deus, para o próprio Deus. É Ele quem salva, Ele é o nosso protetor e libertador. Ele é o lugar da nossa salvação.

O Perigo, o Clamor de Davi e a Sua Libertação (2 Samuel 4-20)

Invoco o SENHOR, digno de ser louvado, e serei salvo dos meus inimigos. Porque ondas de morte me cercaram, torrentes de impiedade me impuseram terror; cadeias infernais me cingiram, e tramas de morte me surpreenderam. Na minha angústia, invoquei o SENHOR, clamei a meu Deus; ele, do seu templo, ouviu a minha voz, e o meu clamor chegou aos seus ouvidos. Então, a terra se abalou e tremeu, vacilaram também os fundamentos dos céus e se estremeceram, porque ele se indignou. Das suas narinas, subiu fumaça, e, da sua boca, fogo devorador; dele saíram carvões, em chama. Baixou ele os céus, e desceu, e teve sob os pés densa escuridão. Cavalgava um querubim e voou; e foi visto sobre as asas do vento. Por pavilhão pôs, ao redor de si, trevas, ajuntamento de águas, nuvens dos céus. Do resplendor que diante dele havia, brasas de fogo se acenderam. Trovejou o SENHOR desde os céus; o Altíssimo levantou a sua voz. Despediu setas, e espalhou os meus inimigos, e raios, e os desbaratou. Então, se viu o leito das águas, e se descobriram os fundamentos do mundo, pela repreensão do SENHOR, pelo iroso resfolgar das suas narinas. Do alto, me estendeu ele a mão e me tomou; tirou-me das muitas águas. Livrou-me do forte inimigo, dos que me aborreciam, porque eram mais poderosos do que eu. Assaltaram-me no dia da minha calamidade, mas o SENHOR me serviu de amparo. Trouxe-me para um lugar espaçoso; livrou-me, porque ele se agradou de mim.

O verso 4 estabelece um princípio, fundamentado na verdade de que Deus é o refúgio de Davi (versos 2 e 3), e demonstrado nos vários livramentos proporcionados por Ele (versos 5-20). Nesse versículo, Davi não se limita a dizer, “invoquei o Senhor… e Ele me salvou”. De fato, ele diz, “toda vez que invoco o Senhor, Ele me salva”. Ele, então, continua a descrever com cenas dramáticas os perigos que correu (versos 5-6), e os livramentos dados pelo Senhor (versos 8-20) em resposta ao seu clamor (verso 7).

Davi usa a imagem de águas turbulentas para descrever como sua vida vinha sendo ameaçada pelos inimigos. Primeiro, ele descreve a si mesmo como alguém que está se afogando no mar revolto, não muito diferente de Jonas9. Em seguida, o quadro muda de se afogando para sendo arrastado pela correnteza (verso 5). Ele conta como quase foi cingido pelas cordas do Sheol (ou do túmulo; a ARA traduz como “infernais”), e surpreendido pela morte (verso 6). Com um último suspiro, ou na terceira vez em que está como se estivesse submergindo, ele conta como invocou o Senhor, e Ele, da Sua morada, ouviu seu clamor (verso 7).

Davi, então, descreve como Deus o salva com a figura de uma teofania (manifestação de Deus ao homem). Em diversos aspectos, as imagens usadas por Davi lembram a linguagem utilizada para descrever a aparição de Deus no Monte Sinai, quando Ele dá a Sua lei por intermédio de Moisés:

Ao amanhecer do terceiro dia, houve trovões, e relâmpagos, e uma espessa nuvem sobre o monte, e mui forte clangor de trombeta, de maneira que todo o povo que estava no arraial se estremeceu. E Moisés levou o povo fora do arraial ao encontro de Deus; e puseram-se ao pé do monte. Todo o monte Sinai fumegava, porque o SENHOR descera sobre ele em fogo; a sua fumaça subiu como fumaça de uma fornalha, e todo o monte tremia grandemente. E o clangor da trombeta ia aumentando cada vez mais; Moisés falava, e Deus lhe respondia no trovão. (Êxodo 19:16-19)

As palavras são semelhantes também às encontradas no “cântico” de Débora:

Saindo tu, ó SENHOR, de Seir, marchando desde o campo de Edom, a terra estremeceu; os céus gotejaram, sim, até as nuvens gotejaram águas. Os montes vacilaram diante do SENHOR, e até o Sinai, diante do SENHOR, Deus de Israel. (Juízes 5:4-5, ver também o Salmo 69:8 e Habacuque 3:3-15)

Davi invoca o Senhor, e Ele lhe responde de forma a assinalar Sua soberania sobre toda a criação. Quando Deus ouve o seu clamor, Ele responde, e Sua resposta é sancionada pela criação. Deus fica furioso por causa dos inimigos que colocam em perigo a vida do Seu rei ungido, e toda a criação reflete a Sua ira. Esta não é somente a descrição de um Deus que quer salvar Seu rei, mas a de um Deus cujo objetivo é destruir os inimigos que o ameaçam.

A primeira indicação de intervenção divina é um terremoto. Toda a terra se abala e treme (verso 8). Fumaça sobe das narinas de Deus, e o fogo da Sua boca devora tudo em seu caminho. Dela saem carvões em chama (verso 9). Quando Deus desce, os céus se prostram e Ele fica sobre a densa escuridão, um prenúncio sinistro das coisas do porvir (verso 10). Ele anda sobre as asas do vento e nuvens espessas e trevas estão ao Seu redor, e um brilho incandescente se irradia adiante dEle (versos 12-13). A voz de Deus é ouvida no som do trovão, e os relâmpagos desferem raios como setas (versos 14-15). Diante da Sua aproximação, os mares se abrem, a terra abaixo fica exposta ante a Sua repreensão e o resfolgar das Suas narinas (verso 16). Deus estende a mão e tira Seu servo das águas, livrando-o do forte inimigo, colocando-o num lugar espaçoso em terra firme. Embora os inimigos de Davi sejam mais fortes, Deus o livra das suas mãos. Ele é o amparo10 de Davi quando eles o confrontam.

A Base Para i Livramento de Davi (2 Samuel 22:21-28)

Retribuiu-me o SENHOR segundo a minha justiça, recompensou-me conforme a pureza das minhas mãos. Pois tenho guardado os caminhos do SENHOR e não me apartei perversamente do meu Deus. Porque todos os seus juízos me estão presentes, e dos seus estatutos não me desviei. Também fui inculpável para com ele e me guardei da iniquidade. Daí, retribuir-me o SENHOR segundo a minha justiça, segundo a minha pureza diante dos seus olhos. Para com o benigno, benigno te mostras; com o íntegro, também íntegro. Com o puro, puro te mostras; com o perverso, inflexível. Tu salvas o povo humilde, mas, com um lance de vista, abates os altivos.

Quando Deus deu a Israel a lei de Moisés, Ele deixou bem claro que a obediência traria bênçãos (Deuteronômio 28:1-4), mas a desobediência, maldição e desastre (28:15-68)11. Davi era um homem segundo o coração de Deus. Com poucas exceções (ver 1 Reis 15:5), ele amava a lei de Deus, e vivia de acordo com ela. Ele entendia que quem se aproxima de Deus é quem guarda a Sua lei:

Quem, SENHOR, habitará no teu tabernáculo? Quem há de morar no teu santo monte? O que vive com integridade, e pratica a justiça, e, de coração, fala a verdade; o que não difama com sua língua, não faz mal ao próximo, nem lança injúria contra o seu vizinho; o que, a seus olhos, tem por desprezível ao réprobo, mas honra aos que temem ao SENHOR; o que jura com dano próprio e não se retrata; o que não empresta o seu dinheiro com usura, nem aceita suborno contra o inocente. Quem deste modo procede não será jamais abalado. (Salmo 15)

Quem subirá ao monte do SENHOR? Quem há de permanecer no seu santo lugar? O que é limpo de mãos e puro de coração, que não entrega a sua alma à falsidade, nem jura dolosamente. Este obterá do SENHOR a bênção e a justiça do Deus da sua salvação. (Salmo 24:3-5)

Davi acreditava, assim como todos os israelitas fiéis, que Deus vai punir os ímpios e salvar os justos que nEle se refugiam:

Vi um ímpio prepotente a expandir-se qual cedro do Líbano. Passei, e eis que desaparecera; procurei-o, e já não foi encontrado. Observa o homem íntegro e atenta no que é reto; porquanto o homem de paz terá posteridade. Quanto aos transgressores, serão, à uma, destruídos; a descendência dos ímpios será exterminada. Vem do SENHOR a salvação dos justos; ele é a sua fortaleza no dia da tribulação. O SENHOR os ajuda e os livra; livra-os dos ímpios e os salva, porque nele buscam refúgio. (Salmo 37:35-40)

Na lei de Moisés, Deus deixou claro a Seu povo que Ele os abençoaria enquanto confiassem nEle e guardassem a Sua lei (ver Deuteronômio 7:12-16). Por outro lado, também ficou claro que a justiça alcançada por suas próprias obras não seria base para a graça de Deus:

Quando, pois, o SENHOR, teu Deus, os tiver lançado de diante de ti, não digas no teu coração: Por causa da minha justiça é que o SENHOR me trouxe a esta terra para a possuir, porque, pela maldade destas gerações, é que o SENHOR as lança de diante de ti. Não é por causa da tua justiça, nem pela retitude do teu coração que entras a possuir a sua terra, mas pela maldade destas nações o SENHOR, teu Deus, as lança de diante de ti; e para confirmar a palavra que o SENHOR, teu Deus, jurou a teus pais, Abraão, Isaque e Jacó. Sabe, pois, que não é por causa da tua justiça que o SENHOR, teu Deus, te dá esta boa terra para possuí-la, pois tu és povo de dura cerviz. (Deuteronômio 9:4-6)

Davi não se esqueceu de que era pecador e precisava de perdão e graça:

Não há parte sã na minha carne, por causa da tua indignação; não há saúde nos meus ossos, por causa do meu pecado. Pois já se elevam acima de minha cabeça as minhas iniqüidades; como fardos pesados, excedem as minhas forças. Tornam-se infectas e purulentas as minhas chagas, por causa da minha loucura. (Salmo 38:3-5)

Ele compreendia que Deus salva o justo e condena o ímpio. É por isso que Deus ouve o seu clamor e o socorre dos vis inimigos. Não só Deus salva o justo, Ele salva o aflito, enquanto condena o soberbo.

Mais tarde voltaremos à questão da retidão de Davi; por enquanto, lembro-me de que o pecado de Saul e sua casa sanguinária resultaram em três anos consecutivos de fome em Israel. Só depois do pecado ter sido expiado, Deus ouviu novamente as orações do Seu povo e retirou a fome (ver 2 Samuel 21). É por isso que Davi acredita que se confiar em Deus e obedecê-lO, Ele ouvirá suas preces.

Fortalecimento Divino para Derrotar os Inimigos (2 Samuel 22:29-46)

Tu, SENHOR, és a minha lâmpada; o SENHOR derrama luz nas minhas trevas. Pois contigo desbarato exércitos, com o meu Deus, salto muralhas. O caminho de Deus é perfeito; a palavra do SENHOR é provada; ele é escudo para todos os que nele se refugiam. Pois quem é Deus, senão o SENHOR? E quem é rochedo, senão o nosso Deus? Deus é a minha fortaleza e a minha força e ele perfeitamente desembaraça o meu caminho. Ele deu a meus pés a ligeireza das corças e me firmou nas minhas alturas. Ele adestrou as minhas mãos para o combate, de sorte que os meus braços vergaram um arco de bronze. Também me deste o escudo do teu salvamento, e a tua clemência me engrandeceu. Alongaste sob meus passos o caminho, e os meus pés não vacilaram. Persegui os meus inimigos, e os derrotei, e só voltei depois de haver dado cabo deles. Acabei com eles, esmagando-os a tal ponto, que não puderam levantar-se; caíram sob meus pés. Pois de força me cingiste para o combate e me submeteste os que se levantaram contra mim. Também puseste em fuga os meus inimigos, e os que me odiaram, eu os exterminei. Olharam, mas ninguém lhes acudiu, sim, para o SENHOR, mas ele não respondeu. Então, os moí como o pó da terra; esmaguei-os e, como a lama das ruas, os amassei. Das contendas do meu povo me livraste e me fizeste cabeça das nações; povo que não conheci me serviu. Os estrangeiros se me sujeitaram; ouvindo a minha voz, me obedeceram. Sumiram-se os estrangeiros e das suas fortificações saíram espavoridos.

Davi louva a Deus por Ele ser seu libertador e seu refúgio (versos 2-3). Quando ele invoca a Deus pedindo socorro, Deus o ouve e responde (verso 4) de forma a mostrar a Sua santidade e a sua ira contra os ímpios que se opõem ao Seu servo e ao Seu poder soberano (versos 5-20). Deus livra Davi dos seus inimigos porque ele é justo e eles são perversos (versos 21-28). Talvez concluamos, pelo que foi dito, que se “a salvação vem do Senhor”, nós não precisamos fazer nada. Devemos, então, ficar sentados, de braços cruzados, vendo Deus fazer tudo? Às vezes, é exatamente isso o que Ele quer de nós, que nos lembremos de que é Ele quem nos dá a vitória. Foi assim no êxodo, quando Deus afogou os egípcios no Mar Vermelho. Mas, com frequência, Ele terá um papel para desempenharmos no Seu livramento. Neste caso, Ele é quem nos dará força e capacidade para vencermos o inimigo. Davi enfrentou Golias e prevaleceu, mas foi Deus quem lhe deu a vitória. Nos versos 30 a 46, Davi fala da capacitação divina, a qual lhe deu forças para enfrentar seus inimigos e prevalecer sobre eles.

A força de Deus não é adicionada à nossa força; Sua força é dada em lugar da nossa fraqueza. É por isso que Davi começa com esta declaração:

Tu, SENHOR, és a minha lâmpada; o SENHOR derrama luz nas minhas trevas. (verso 29)

Deus derrama luz nas trevas de Davi. Deus o fortalece na sua fraqueza. É justamente isso o que Paulo ensina no Novo Testamento:

E, para que não me ensoberbecesse com a grandeza das revelações, foi-me posto um espinho na carne, mensageiro de Satanás, para me esbofetear, a fim de que não me exalte. Por causa disto, três vezes pedi ao Senhor que o afastasse de mim. Então, ele me disse: A minha graça te basta, porque o poder se aperfeiçoa na fraqueza. De boa vontade, pois, mais me gloriarei nas fraquezas, para que sobre mim repouse o poder de Cristo. Pelo que sinto prazer nas fraquezas, nas injúrias, nas necessidades, nas perseguições, nas angústias, por amor de Cristo. Porque, quando sou fraco, então, é que sou forte. (2 Coríntios 12:7-10)

Davi descreve a força dada por Deus em termos de um combate de guerra. A força de Deus o capacita a saltar muralhas e a esmagar ou desbaratar uma tropa de homens (verso 30). A força militar começa na mente. Davi teve a coragem moral para enfrentar Golias, assim como a habilidade dada por Deus para derrubá-lo com sua funda. A base para essa força corajosa (vamos chamá-lo pelo que ela é — fé) é a Palavra de Deus. Ela é a fonte da sua fé, a qual o capacita a lutar. Sua palavra para nós é sobre Deus, a nossa rocha e o nosso refúgio (versos 31-33). Deus não apenas coloca Davi nos altos lugares (pontos militares estratégicos), Ele também dá a ele a estabilidade que lhe permite lutar dessa posição (verso 34). Deus é aquele que adestra as mãos de Davi para o combate, quem lhe dá força para vergar um arco de bronze (verso 35). Ele lhe dá o escudo da Sua salvação, e depois lhe dá firmeza para resistir e lutar (versos 36-37).

Todas essas coisas permitem a Davi ter êxito na perseguição dos seus inimigos a fim de que eles façam meia volta e fujam (verso 38). No entanto, eles não escapam, pois Deus lhe dá condições de destruir (moer, verso 43) quem se opõe a ele (versos 39-43). Alguns dos inimigos de Davi — talvez até mesmo muitos deles — parecem ser camaradas israelitas, mas seus inimigos e aliados também incluem os gentios. Nos versos finais do salmo, os gentios se tornam mais proeminentes. Ao livrar Davi das contendas do seu próprio povo (verso 44), Deus também incute terror no coração dos outros povos (os gentios). Em decorrência disso, Deus não só estabelece Davi como rei de Israel, mas também faz as demais nações se sujeitarem a ele. Os gentios temem Davi, e se sua sujeição não é genuína, pelo menos eles fingem ser leais a ele (versos 44-45). Eles desistem e saem espavoridos das suas fortalezas (verso 46).

Louvai a Deus! (Gentios Também!) (2 Samuel 22:47-50)

Vive o SENHOR, e bendita seja a minha Rocha! Exaltado seja o meu Deus, a Rocha da minha salvação!12 O Deus que por mim tomou vingança e me submeteu povos; o Deus que me tirou dentre os meus inimigos; sim, tu que me exaltaste acima dos meus adversários e me livraste do homem violento. Celebrar-te-ei, pois, entre as nações, ó SENHOR, e cantarei louvores ao teu nome.

Deus é refúgio e defensor de Davi. Quando ele clama por socorro, Deus o ouve e socorre. Deus moverá céus e terra para ajudá-lo, embora às vezes Ele o salve dando-lhe forças para confrontar seus inimigos e derrotá-los. Agora chegamos ao ponto onde as coisas ficam muito interessantes. Quem são, exatamente, os inimigos de Davi? E quem são aqueles com quem ele vai louvar a Deus? Os judeus fanáticos teriam a resposta na ponta da língua: “Os amigos de Davi são os judeus, os quais se juntarão a ele para adorar a Deus; os gentios são inimigos de Deus, e merecem ser reduzidos a pó”. Mas, de modo algum, é isso o que Davi diz.

Ele indica claramente que vários de seus inimigos são pessoas do seu próprio povo (ver verso 44a), e que há gente entre as nações sujeitas a ele que cultuará a Deus com ele (verso 44b). A afirmação mais clara está no verso 50:

Celebrar-te-ei, pois, entre as nações, ó SENHOR, e cantarei louvores ao teu nome.

Alguns dos judeus se opõem a Deus, opondo-se a Davi. Alguns dos gentios são aqueles com quem Davi celebra a Deus como o grande Libertador. Para não pensarem que estou extrapolando o texto, permitam-me lembrar que este é precisamente o enfoque de Paulo, quando usa este texto como uma de suas provas:

Portanto, acolhei-vos uns aos outros, como também Cristo nos acolheu para a glória de Deus. Digo, pois, que Cristo foi constituído ministro da circuncisão, em prol da verdade de Deus, para confirmar as promessas feitas aos nossos pais; e para que os gentios glorifiquem a Deus por causa da sua misericórdia, como está escrito: POR ISSO, EU TE GLORIFICAREI ENTRE OS GENTIOS E CANTAREI LOUVORES AO TEU NOME. E também diz: ALEGRAI-VOS, Ó GENTIOS, COM O SEU POVO. E ainda: LOUVAI AO SENHOR, VÓS TODOS OS GENTIOS, E TODOS OS POVOS O LOUVEM. Também Isaías diz: HAVERÁ A RAIZ DE JESSÉ, AQUELE QUE SE LEVANTA PARA GOVERNAR OS GENTIOS; NELE OS GENTIOS ESPERARÃO. (Romanos 15:7-12)

Será que Deus é o libertador, o refúgio de Davi? Sim. Mas Ele é também o refúgio e o libertador de todos aqueles que confiam nEle, inclusive dos gentios. Quem se coloca contra o rei de Deus (Davi, ou Messias) é inimigo de Deus, e será reduzido a pó pelo rei de Deus.

Deus Salve o Rei! (2 Samuel 22:51)

É Ele quem dá grandes vitórias ao Seu rei e usa de benignidade para com o Seu ungido, com Davi e sua posteridade, para sempre.13

A conclusão de Davi é cheia de esperança e expectativa. Ele é o rei ungido de Deus, mas seu reinado está prestes a acabar. Deus provou ser sua “torre de libertação”, mas isso não vai cessar, devido à aliança feita por Deus com ele, uma aliança que teria um trono eterno:

Quando teus dias se cumprirem e descansares com teus pais, então, farei levantar depois de ti o teu descendente, que procederá de ti, e estabelecerei o seu reino. Este edificará uma casa ao meu nome, e eu estabelecerei para sempre o trono do seu reino. Eu lhe serei por pai, e ele me será por filho; se vier a transgredir, castigá-lo-ei com varas de homens e com açoites de filhos de homens. Mas a minha misericórdia se não apartará dele, como a retirei de Saul, a quem tirei de diante de ti. Porém a tua casa e o teu reino serão firmados para sempre diante de ti; teu trono será estabelecido para sempre. (2 Samuel 7:12-16, ênfase do autor)

Estará Davi seguro por ser Deus o seu refúgio? Sim, no final deste verso, ele revela que sua confiança e sua segurança são muito mais duradouras do que a sua própria vida terrena. Ele sabe que, assim como Deus tem sido benevolente para com ele, Ele também será para com seus descendentes, por isso, as bênçãos das quais fala são eternas. Deus não apenas mantém Sua promessa a Davi, protegendo-o de quem tenta destruí-lo, e fazendo-o assentar-se no trono, mas Ele também irá instalar Aquele que cumpre a aliança davídica, o Seu Ungido, o Messias.

Conclusão

Ao concluir esta mensagem, muitas coisas me impressionam quando medito neste salmo.

Primeiro, vejo os “sucessos” de Davi basicamente como feitos de Deus. Quando Davi medita em sua ascensão ao trono, ele compreende que sua escalada ao poder e à proeminência foi devido à graça divina. Ele recorda os perigos em que esteve, quando a morte parecia certa e inevitável, e louva a Deus como o seu resgatador, o seu refúgio, a sua fonte de força e sucesso. Não é como se ele não tivesse feito nada, esperando Deus fazer tudo; antes, apesar das suas ações, Davi sabe que foi Deus quem preservou sua vida e o promoveu a rei de Israel. Davi, aqui, ilustra a verdadeira humildade. Vamos aprender com ele. Se alguém da sua posição e com a sua força espiritual pode dar glória a Deus, com certeza nós também podemos. Como diz Paulo:

Pois quem é que te faz sobressair? E que tens tu que não tenhas recebido? E, se o recebeste, por que te vanglorias, como se o não tiveras recebido? (1 Coríntios 4:7)

Segundo, vejo os sucessos de Davi como resultado das suas adversidades e aflições, muitas das quais foram causadas por seus inimigos. Davi louva a Deus pela Sua salvação. Muitas vezes, essa “salvação” foi física (Deus salvou a vida de Davi). Quando olhamos para os evangelhos, encontramos a mesma coisa. A “salvação” fundamental é aquela que nos livra da condenação eterna e viabiliza o perdão dos nossos pecados por meio do sangue de Jesus Cristo, garantindo-nos a vida eterna. Mas, por toda parte nos evangelhos, nosso Senhor é visto “salvando” pessoas em um sentido mais amplo, o que apenas reforça a Sua reivindicação de ser um Salvador maior do que isso.

No Novo Testamento, a palavra grega para salvar é empregada para uma grande variedade de “salvações”. A mesma palavra (raiz) é utilizada para “salvar” os discípulos da tempestade no mar (Mateus 8:25), para curar a mulher com hemorragia (Mateus 9:21-22), para não deixar Pedro afundar quando ele andava sobre as águas (Mateus 14:30), para atender ao pedido de Jairo de “cura” da sua filha (Marcos 5:23), para curar enfermidades de todos os tipos (Marcos 6:56), para restaurar a vista de um cego (Marcos 10:52) e para expulsar demônios (Lucas 8:36).

A lição a ser aprendida é que Deus é o nosso Salvador em muitos aspectos, sendo o maior deles a salvação proporcionada pelo sangue derramado de Jesus. A primeira e mais importante maneira de podermos experimentar a salvação de Deus é recebendo o dom da salvação da culpa e da pena pelos nossos pecados, crendo na morte sacrificial, no sepultamento e na ressurreição de nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo. E então, dia após dia, precisamos olhar para Ele como nosso Libertador, nossa Fortaleza e nosso Refúgio, sob cuja guarda e cuidado estamos eternamente seguros.

É nesse contexto de sofrimento e adversidade que experimentamos a graça salvífica de Deus (2 Coríntios 12:7-10). Se for assim (e com certeza é), então devemos ver as nossas aflições de uma forma bem diferente. Embora não nos agradem, elas produzem o doce fruto da intervenção divina e a alegria de uma comunhão mais íntima com nosso Senhor (Filipenses 3:10). Não é à toa que o Senhor tenha dito: “Bem-aventurados os que choram…” (Mateus 5:4).

Terceiro, o livramento dos justos ocorre quando Deus manifesta a Sua ira. Davi fala do perigo vindo de quem é seu inimigo, de quem procura a sua morte (22:18-19, 38-46). Quando Deus é descrito indo em seu auxílio nos versos 8 a 16, Ele vai com toda a natureza a Seu comando. Ele anda, por assim dizer, sobre as asas do vento (verso 11); Ele usa trovões e relâmpagos (versos 14-15), e terremotos (verso 8). Tudo isso é manifestação da ira de Deus aos pecadores que se opõem a Ele quando se opõem ao Seu rei escolhido (ver verso 8). Deus livra o Seu servo, defendendo-o e derrotando seus inimigos.

Davi não fala sobre a salvação de Deus sem considerar também a Sua condenação. Deus o salva, destruindo os seus inimigos. Não existe nada mais assustador do que se encontrar em oposição a um Deus santo e justo. Não há nada mais aterrorizante do que se chegar à conclusão — tarde demais — de que se está contra o ungido de Deus, contra o “filho” de Deus (ver 2 Samuel 7:12-16). Se foi assim para os inimigos de Davi, imagine como será para quem rejeita Jesus Cristo, o “filho de Davi” e “Filho de Deus”. Não há nada pior do que se rebelar contra Deus, rejeitando o Seu Filho.

Quarto, nosso texto certamente fala de alguém superior a Davi. Quando lemos o Salmo 22, percebemos que, embora o salmo tenha sido escrito por Davi, que estava sofrendo às mãos de seus inimigos, há coisas no texto que só podem estar falando de Cristo, o descendente de Davi. O mesmo se aplica ao Salmo 18 (2 Samuel 22). Em última análise, é o “Filho de Davi”, Jesus Cristo, quem está sendo descrito.

Como disse Calvino, “muita coisa neste salmo tem mais a ver com Cristo do que com Davi; e em Romanos 15:9, Paulo não precisou de outro argumento para embasar o seu entendimento do verso 49 (Salmo 18; verso 50 em 2 Samuel) como parte de uma profecia sobre o Messias”.14

Jesus Cristo, o Filho de Deus, foi rejeitado pelos ímpios, os quais O condenaram à morte. É Jesus quem Deus resgata da morte quando O ressuscita dentre os mortos. Serão os inimigos de nosso Senhor que o Pai destruirá quando enviar Seu Filho de volta a terra. O cântico de Davi é justamente sobre isso — um salmo que anseia pelo tempo em que o “trono eterno” for estabelecido sobre a terra, quando os inimigos de nosso Senhor serão reduzidos a pó e punidos, enquanto aqueles que creem nEle serão salvos. Que dia será esse! A alegria da Sua salvação será igualada pelo terror da Sua justa ira.

Quinto, se Deus é o nosso refúgio, então não é preciso temer. Muitas vezes vejo aquele adesivo de para-choque (na verdade, é mais comum no vidro traseira de uma caminhonete) que diz: Não tenho medo. Não tenho muita certeza do que isso significa para quem o usa. Seria “você não me assusta, por isso, não se meta comigo”, ou “ando sempre com uma arma carregada?” Seja qual for o sentido, não tem nem comparação com as palavras de nosso Senhor, “não temais”. Não há nada neste mundo que se compare à segurança e à proteção dos santos:

Sede fortes e corajosos, não temais, nem vos atemorizeis diante deles, porque o SENHOR, vosso Deus, é quem vai convosco; não vos deixará, nem vos desamparará. (Deuteronômio 31:6)

Eu vi que o povo estava preocupado e por isso disse a eles, e às suas autoridades, e aos seus oficiais: - Não tenham medo dos nossos inimigos. Lembrem como Deus, o Senhor, é grande e terrível e lutem pelos seus patrícios, pelos seus filhos, suas esposas e seus lares. (Neemias 14:4, Almeida Atualizada)

Não tenho medo de milhares do povo que tomam posição contra mim de todos os lados. (Salmo 3:6)

Em Deus, cuja palavra eu exalto, neste Deus ponho a minha confiança e nada temerei. Que me pode fazer um mortal? (Salmo 56:4)

Neste Deus ponho a minha confiança e nada temerei. Que me pode fazer o homem? (Salmo 56:11)

O SENHOR está comigo; não temerei. Que me poderá fazer o homem? (Salmo 118:6)

Eis que Deus é a minha salvação; confiarei e não temerei, porque o SENHOR Deus é a minha força e o meu cântico; ele se tornou a minha salvação. (Isaías 12:2)

Não temas diante deles, porque eu sou contigo para te livrar, diz o SENHOR. (Jeremias 1:8)

Não temais o rei da Babilônia, a quem vós temeis; não o temais, diz o SENHOR, porque eu sou convosco, para vos salvar e vos livrar das suas mãos. (Jeremias 42:11)

Mas Jesus imediatamente lhes disse: Tende bom ânimo! Sou eu. Não temais! (Mateus 14:27)

Teve Paulo durante a noite uma visão em que o Senhor lhe disse: Não temas; pelo contrário, fala e não te cales; (Atos 18:9)

Seja a vossa vida sem avareza. Contentai-vos com as coisas que tendes; porque ele tem dito: DE MANEIRA ALGUMA TE DEIXAREI, NUNCA JAMAIS TE ABANDONAREI. Assim, afirmemos confiantemente: O SENHOR É O MEU AUXÍLIO, NÃO TEMEREI, QUE ME PODERÁ FAZER O HOMEM? (Hebreus 13:5-6)

Para quem conhece Jesus Cristo e crê nEle como seu Salvador, não há nada a temer. Não é preciso temer o julgamento de Deus, pois a nossa punição foi suportada por nosso Salvador. Não é preciso temer as necessidades, pois Ele prometeu cuidar de nós. Não é preciso temer qualquer circunstância da vida, pois Ele é por nós. Que esta seja a sua confiança, na medida em que você crer na salvação de Deus, Jesus Cristo.

Que diremos, pois, à vista destas coisas? Se Deus é por nós, quem será contra nós? Aquele que não poupou o seu próprio Filho, antes, por todos nós o entregou, porventura, não nos dará graciosamente com ele todas as coisas? Quem intentará acusação contra os eleitos de Deus? É Deus quem os justifica. Quem os condenará? É Cristo Jesus quem morreu ou, antes, quem ressuscitou, o qual está à direita de Deus e também intercede por nós. Quem nos separará do amor de Cristo? Será tribulação, ou angústia, ou perseguição, ou fome, ou nudez, ou perigo, ou espada? Como está escrito: POR AMOR DE TI, SOMOS ENTREGUES À MORTE O DIA TODO, FOMOS CONSIDERADOS COMO OVELHAS PARA O MATADOURO. Em todas estas coisas, porém, somos mais que vencedores, por meio daquele que nos amou. Porque eu estou bem certo de que nem a morte, nem a vida, nem os anjos, nem os principados, nem as coisas do presente, nem do porvir, nem os poderes, nem a altura, nem a profundidade, nem qualquer outra criatura poderá separar-nos do amor de Deus, que está em Cristo Jesus, nosso Senhor. (Romanos 8:31-39)

Tradução: Mariza Regina de Souza


1 NT: na época em que Mr. Deffinbaugh escreveu este estudo

2 Quando contei a Karl sobre minhas lembranças daquele velório, ele me disse que sua esposa, Martha, dava aulas na Escola Dominical numa sala do outro lado do corredor da sala de embalsamamento, de modo que a classe estava sempre sentido cheiro de formol.

3 O texto nos diz que este salmo é uma resposta de Davi aos livramentos de Deus da mão de seus inimigos e da mão de Saul. Por isso, estou presumindo que tenha sido escrito no início de seu reinado, logo após a morte de Saul. Confirmações adicionais da minha suposição vêm do fato de que alguns teólogos acreditam que este salmo seja um dos mais antigos de Davi.

4 “Além de ser a citação mais longa atribuída a Davi (365 palavras em hebraico) e exibir uma rica variação de vocabulário, a seção tem os mesmos moldes da estrutura formal, um exemplo clássico da poesia hebraica”. Robert D. Bergen, 1 e 2 Samuel (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), p. 450.

5 O cântico de Habacuque não é o mais antigo. No entanto, ele se assemelha ao salmo de Davi, como se o profeta não só estivesse familiarizado com ele, mas também o tivesse tomado de empréstimo.

6 Bergen chama a atenção para a posição relevante dada ao salmo no final de 2 Samuel: “A presente seção é claramente uma das passagens de destaque de 2 Samuel, sendo realçada de pelo menos três maneiras. Primeira, a passagem — junto com 22:1-51 — foi colocada no centro da estrutura quiástica do apêndice: por isso, funciona como parte do tema principal dessa porção de 1 e 2 Samuel. Segunda, foi designada como “oráculo”, uma categoria especial da fala reservada para declarações proféticas de importância incomum. Finalmente, foi imortalizada como o enunciado final do “homem exaltado pelo Altíssimo” que se tornou o maior rei de Israel. Bergen, p. 464-465.

7 “Há um relato de que Atanásio, notável líder cristão do século IV, declarou que os Salmos possuem um lugar especial na Bíblia porque a maior parte das Escrituras fala para nós, enquanto os Salmos falam por nós.” Citado por Bernard Anderson, Das Profundezas: Hoje os Salmos Falam por Nós (Filadélfia: The Westminster Press), p. x.

8Cidadela (2) é a palavra usada para a caverna de Adulão (1 Samuel 22:1-5, cf. 23:14, 19, 29), e para o forte jebuseu que se tornou a “cidade de Davi” (5:9)”. Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: Comentário (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 304.

9 Seria estranho pensar que Jonas parece ter emprestado as palavras de Davi para descrever a sua própria situação quando estava no mar (compare 2 Samuel 22:5 com Jonas 2:3-5)?

10 “No verso 19, Davi muda o ambiente poético do mar para a campina, baseando-se na sua própria história pastoril. Neste verso, ele poeticamente descreve o Senhor como seu “cajado” (v. 19: ARA, “amparo”). O termo empregado aqui… se refere à grande vara com a parte superior encurvada usada pelos pastores para tirar as ovelhas do perigo ou afastá-las do caminho errado”. Bergen, p. 456.

11 “...este salmo pode ser visto como uma reafirmação do tema central da Torá — a obediência ao Senhor resulta em bênçãos. Portanto, sua mensagem pode ser resumida desta forma: Uma vez que Davi obedecia escrupulosamente ao Senhor, o Senhor o recompensou atendendo suas súplicas, livrando-o nos tempos de crise e exaltando-o. Por isso, o Senhor deve ser louvado”. Robert D. Bergen, 1 & 2 Samuel (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), p. 451.

12 “As referências ao Senhor como a Rocha, as declarações de que Deus ‘se vinga’ (literalmente, ‘dá a vingança a’) dos inimigos de Davi e a afirmação de que ‘o Senhor vive’ ligam esta parte final do último cântico de Davi à última parte do cântico de Moisés, especialmente Deuteronômio 32:31-43. A semelhança no vocabulário e no assunto sugere que o escritor tentou conscientemente produzir um eco e um paralelo entre o último cântico de Moisés e o último cântico de Davi”. Bergen, p. 462.

13 “Há uma semelhança notável entre o final do cântico de Ana (1 Samuel 2:10) e o verso final do cântico de Davi. Ambos falam do Senhor dando assistência ao “seu rei” e ao “seu ungido”, e mencionam os dois substantivos na mesma ordem. Ao mesmo tempo, há uma notável diferença — Davi chama a si mesmo e aos seus descendentes de reis do Senhor, enquanto Ana não faz tal menção. O efeito resultante desse contraste aparentemente intencional é a afirmação de que a casa de Davi é, de fato, o cumprimento da profecia de Ana”. Bergen, p. 463

“Quanto ao tema, o salmo ecoa e amplia o cântico de Ana (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Cada clímax com uma referência à fidelidade de Yahweh ao seu rei ungido, mas com a diferença de que, com o cumprimento da profecia dinástica (2 Sm. 7:8-16), agora toda a descendência de Davi é objeto do Seu favor. De forma apropriada, a seção seguinte retoma o tema da “aliança eterna” entre Yahweh e Davi (cf. 2 Sm. 23:5)”. Gordon, p. 309

14 Derek Kidner, Salmos 1 a 72: Introdução e Comentário (Drowners Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), v. 1, p. 90.

Lesson 40: Hearing the Word, Part IV- The Grounds of Biblical Assurance (Luke 8:1-21)

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Editor's Note: Lesson 39 (Part 3 in this mini-series) on the parable of the soils is unavailable. The audio file is no longer extant.

(Part IV) The final type of soil in Jesus’s parable, and the one that He finishes with in explaining the meaning to the disciples, is the good, fruitful soil producing an abundant crop. There are some distinguishing marks of this soil that set it apart from the others. It is the only seed that falls into the ground instead of simply on or among. It furthermore is the case that, not only does this soil produce something, the actual crop yielded is an exceptional one. Having looked at the first three soils and their ultimate rejection of the seed of the gospel, we are once again brought to the point of testing our own hearts in order that we might have assurance that we truly know the Lord. A couple of questions once again help us in this testing. 1) Am I holding fast to the gospel? 2) Am I persevering in producing spiritual fruit? Helpful to remember at this point is that such growth is never put forward in the Scriptures as that which flows out of a type of man-centered power or legalism but instead comes about through the work of God in the true believer. It ultimately all comes down to a life centered on Christ that yields joyful obedience.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Assurance, Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Lesson 21: Fasting for the Bridegroom (Luke 5:33-39)

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It is not a strange thing in any of the gospels to see certain segments of the Jewish population of Jesus’s day question His ministry. This passage is no different, and Jesus urges His questioners to consider the uniqueness and blessing of His presence with them. In this instance, the inquiry is about fasting and why Jesus doesn’t seem all that concerned to have His disciples engaged in it. Pastor Daniel, in taking us through this passage, helps us to see that “fasting is the feast believers partake in as they long for the return of their Redeemer.” Helping his listeners understand both the misconceptions about fasting and its true purpose as revealed in the Scriptures, we come to see that this practice is ultimately about us longing for His glory and all-consuming presence, recognizing that everything in regard to fasting is based upon where Jesus is…chronologically and geographically. This is a message for those who want (or need to want!) to long more for Jesus. Fasting can be a beautiful means to help us toward that end.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Discipline, Fasting, Spiritual Life

Lesson 83: Grief And Hope (Genesis 49:29-50:14)

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The novelist, Somerset Maugham, said, “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” We all wish we could follow such advice. Death is a subject we would rather not think about.

In light of that, it may seem odd that Winston Churchill planned his own funeral. It included many of the great hymns of the church and used the eloquent Anglican liturgy. At his direction, a bugler, positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, played “Taps,” the universal signal that day is done.

But then came the most dramatic turn. As Churchill had instructed, as soon as “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the other side of the great dome, played “Reveille”: “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning.”

I don’t know if Churchill was a true believer in Jesus Christ, but by following “Taps” with “Reveille,” he seemed to be testifying that death is not the final note in history. There will be that “great gittin’ up morning,” when the dead in Christ shall rise. When a loved one dies, there is the sorrow and grief of loss, but for the believer, there is also the hope of eternal life that overcomes the grief.

Genesis 49:29-50:14 records the death of Jacob. More space is given to his death than to any other person in Genesis, and probably to any other person in the Bible, except for Jesus Christ. Moses’ reason for this lengthy treatment seems to be to renew for his readers the covenant promises of God concerning the Promised Land. Although Jacob only possessed a small burial plot in Canaan, he wanted to be buried there rather than to stay in Egypt, because God had promised Canaan to Abraham and his descendents. When Jacob died, his son Joseph grieved over his father, but also he had hope and faith in God’s promises, pictured here in Jacob’s burial in Canaan. From this account of Jacob’s death and funeral, we can learn how we, as believers, can face the death of a loved one.

Though we grieve at the death of a loved one, we have hope by faith in God’s promises.

Some Christians have the mistaken notion that it is not spiritual to grieve at the death of a loved one. They reason that Christ has defeated death, that the loved one is in heaven, and so we should be joyful. I was consoling a weeping young widow at her husband’s funeral when another pastor came up smiling and said, “Well, praise the Lord! Scott’s in glory!” In my opinion, that was an insensitive and unbiblical denial of our humanity. Our text shows that

1. It is proper to grieve at the death of a loved one.

Joseph was a godly man. His father’s death was not unexpected. Yet when Jacob died, Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept (50:1). Then he observed 70 days of mourning (50:3), plus seven more days after the funeral procession arrived at the borders of Canaan. There is no hint in the text that Joseph was unspiritual or excessive in his grief.

Although it is possible to grieve excessively, the Bible teaches that normal grief is a proper human emotion and that tears are the normal response in grief. Jesus Christ entered into Mary and Martha’s grief by weeping at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:33, 35). In fact, God the Holy Spirit is capable of grief, as seen in the admonition, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 4:30). One of the most difficult commandments God has given anybody was when He told the prophet Ezekiel that He was going to take his wife and, as a sign to the disobedient nation, he was not allowed to mourn outwardly or weep for her (Ezek. 24:16-17). But that was clearly an exception. Grief is normal and proper when we lose loved ones in death. You’re not more spiritual if you don’t grieve.

A. We grieve because death is our enemy.

Death is not a natural part of life, as some would have us believe. Death is our enemy! Death entered the human race as God’s curse against our sin. As we saw in our study of Genesis 5, the history of the human race has been marked by the grim notice, he lived so many years, “and he died; ... and he died; etc.” As the infidel playwright, George Bernard Shaw, pungently noted, “The statistics on death are quite impressive; one out of one people die.”

That death is a curse may be hinted at in the name “Atad” (50:10): In Hebrew it means “thorn bush.” It is a flashback to chapter 3, where God declared that as a result of man’s sin, the earth would yield thorns. Here, as the funeral procession comes to this threshing floor of the thorn bush, it is a reminder of the curse of death stemming from man’s sin.

You may be wondering, “But didn’t Christ conquer death through his resurrection? Doesn’t the Bible say that He abolished death (2 Tim. 1:10)? Doesn’t death usher us into the presence of Christ? Then how can you say that death is still our enemy?”

Yes, Christ conquered death, but that triumph will not be fully realized until He returns to give us resurrection bodies like His own. Yes, He abolished death, in the sense of breaking its ultimate victory over believers. But the Bible never teaches that He abolished death in the sense of making it nonexistent, as the Christian Science cult teaches. It was not until the Apostle John saw the new heavens and new earth that he stated, “and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:1, 4). Until then, death is a painful reminder of God’s curse upon our sin. We grieve because death is our enemy.

With regard to death ushering us into the presence of Christ, it’s true: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). That’s wonderful for the person who has died in the Lord. But that doesn’t relieve all the pain for those who are left behind.

B. We grieve because death separates us from loved ones.

Joseph knew that he would never be able to talk with his father again in this life. Joseph lived for another 54 years. I’m sure that there were many times during those years that he longed to talk with his dad about something, but he wasn’t there. It’s that sense of loneliness, of missing the departed person, that makes grief linger, often for years. We have to work through our grief to the point where we establish a new “normal,” without the deceased person in our lives. That process takes time.

In his booklet, “Grief” (Christian Medical Society, pp. 11-16), Dr. Haddon Robinson states that there are three stages of grief through which we normally must pass. First is the crisis stage, which lasts up through the funeral. During this stage, a person at first feels shock and then numbness. Crying is a healthy sign of emotional release during this time. To help a person during these difficult hours, your presence is the most important thing. Sit with the person, listen a lot, and say very little. Let the person tell you the details of what happened. You can gently try to instill hope, but this isn’t the time to give out familiar Bible verses with the implication, “If you’d just trust God, you wouldn’t feel this way.”

A funeral or memorial service is a helpful part of the grieving process for family and friends. It helps to give a sense of closure to the person’s death. While we talk about paying our respects to the deceased person, funerals are for the living, not for the dead. This huge funeral procession up to Canaan, with all of Pharaoh’s court officials, wasn’t for Jacob; it was for Joseph and his brothers. The Egyptians were showing their respect for Joseph by entering into his grief. The 70 days of mourning were just two short of the time of mourning for a Pharaoh, which shows how highly Joseph was regarded.

Joseph had his father embalmed in accordance with the Egyptian custom, partly so that he could transport his body to Canaan, as Jacob had made him swear. (So Joseph’s daddy became a mummy.) The Bible does not prescribe a method of burial, although the most common practice was to place the corpse in a cave or hewn out tomb. Some Bible teachers argue that cremation dishonors the body, but it seems to me that it is permissible if a family decides for it. When Christ returns, He can resurrect a cremated body just as easily as a decomposed, buried body.

The main consideration should be the way a family will feel about it later. While putting flowers on a grave seems pointless to me, I think it can be helpful for a grieving person to go to the gravesite as a place of remembrance and mourning. You can’t do that if the ashes are scattered at sea. Visiting the gravesite of godly family members can help us to recall their example and spur us on to follow in their way of life.

Regarding the cost of the funeral, I urge moderation. For a family member of someone of Joseph’s rank, it was obviously a huge affair. That’s not improper. A family should do what they feel proper within their means as stewards of the Lord’s resources. They should think about what they want the funeral to say to friends and relatives. I’m bothered when people spend needless thousands of dollars for caskets and flowers. Often the motive for such extravagance is either pride or guilt. Why not give testimony to the person’s values by having a simple service with a single bouquet and by giving a large donation to a Christian work? There is freedom in the Lord on these matters, but a family should think it through in light of the biblical principles of stewardship and witness.

The second stage of grieving is the crucible stage. This lasts 12 weeks or more and is most intense during the first six weeks. The extended family and friends have left to return to their routines and the grieving one is left alone. During this time, he must work through the fact that the dead person will not be a part of his life again. He has to deal with emotional ties from the past and with expectations for the future which were bound up with the one who died. Edna St. Vincent Millay captures the feelings of grief during this phase in her poem “Lament” (quoted in Robinson, p. 14):

Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten.
Life must go on,
Though good men die.

Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on,
I forget just why.

It’s not uncommon for a person to have periodic bouts of depression and crying for two or three years after an “expected” death, let alone after a sudden, unexpected loss. As a friend, being there and listening is again the most helpful thing you can do. You won’t open wounds to mention the person who has died. The grieving person probably feels a need to talk about him.

The final stage is the construction stage, when the grieving person creates new patterns for living that are not tied to the past. This is implied in verse 14, which reports that Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt, where they had left their children and jobs (50:8). At this stage, the person accepts reality and is ready to move on with what God has given him to do with his life.

So, as Christians, it is proper to grieve at the death of a loved one. But as Paul says, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).

2. Though we grieve, we have hope by faith in God’s promises.

Jacob mentions that he is about “to be gathered to his people” (49:29; see also verse 33). While some argue that this phrase is just a Hebrew euphemism for death or for burial in the ancestral burial plot, I think it implies more. Jacob wasn’t reunited with his ancestors when his body was carried into the cave of Machpelah, where their bodies lay. His soul was gathered to the souls of his ancestors in heaven the moment he expired. So the expression is an early statement of the hope of life after death.

Two thoughts about our hope:

A. We must exercise hope in God’s promises by faith.

The author of Hebrews makes the point that the greats of the faith died without receiving the promises (Heb. 11:39). God had promised Jacob the land of Canaan, but here he was, dying in Egypt, with no claim on Canaan except a burial plot. God had promised to make him a great nation, but he was only a company of 70 strong when he entered Egypt.

But by faith, he blessed his sons and predicted their future as the 12 tribes of the nation Israel. By faith he made Joseph promise to take his body back to Canaan. He could have been buried in the finest of Egyptian tombs, but he chose to make a statement in his death about his resolute trust in what God had promised. So he said, “Bury me in the cave ... in the land of Canaan” (49:30). Jacob’s faith gave him hope in God’s promises, hope that sustained him as he faced death.

How do we know that our hope in God’s promise of eternal life is not just wishful thinking? What if we die and there is nothing else? How do we know that our loved ones who have died in Christ are in heaven, and that we will be with them someday?

The Apostle Paul deals with all these questions. In 1 Corinthians 15 he argues that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the basis for our future resurrection. He shows that Christ’s resurrection has solid evidence supporting it and argues that if Christ hasn’t been raised, then our faith is worthless. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul argues that the resurrection of Christ is the basis for our hope of being reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ.

But even though we have that solid evidence, we must exercise faith in God’s promises when we are faced with death, simply because we haven’t gone beyond the grave and returned. But Jesus has, and we can take Him at His word. When we do, He gives us genuine hope in the face of our greatest enemy.

B. We must extend our hope to those who are without God and have no hope.

Both the Canaanites (50:11) and the Egyptians observed Joseph during his grief. No doubt the Egyptians wondered why Jacob wanted to be buried in some cave in Canaan, when he could have had a beautiful tomb in Egypt. James Boice (Genesis [Zondervan, 2:322]) observes, “If Joseph had not expressed grief over the death of his beloved father, the Egyptians would have concluded merely that he had not cared for him, that perhaps he was even glad to have the old man out of the way. If he had expressed nothing but grief, the Egyptians may have concluded that the hope of an afterlife by these Semitic people was no better than their own dark hopes and may even have been inferior to theirs.” I agree with Boice as he goes on to argue that Joseph undoubtedly used the occasion of the funeral and the trip back to Canaan to tell his Egyptian friends about his hope in the living God.

The time of death and funerals can be a great opportunity for witness to those who otherwise put death and eternity out of their minds. We should always be sensitive, but also we must be bold, in telling others of the hope of the gospel at such times.

The late Joseph Bayly was a godly man who knew grief through the death of three of his children, but who also knew the hope that is in Christ. The day after he and his wife buried their five-year-old boy, who died of leukemia, Bayly went to thank the doctor who had been so kind to them through their ordeal. As he sat in the waiting room, the receptionist beckoned to him and whispered that a little boy playing in the waiting room had the same problem as his son had.

Bayly sat down next to the boy’s mother. They were far enough away from the boy so they could talk. “It’s hard bringing him in here every two weeks for these tests, isn’t it.” Bayly didn’t ask a question; he stated a fact.

“Hard?” She was silent for a moment. “I die every time. And now he’s beginning to sense that something’s wrong ...” Her voice trailed off.

“It’s good to know, isn’t it,” Bayly spoke slowly, choosing his words with unusual care, “that even though the medical outlook is hopeless, we can have hope for our children in such a situation. We can be sure that after our child dies, he’ll be completely removed from sickness and suffering and everything like that, and be completely well and happy.”

“If I could only believe that,” the woman replied. “But I don’t. When he dies, I’ll just have to cover him up with dirt and forget I ever had him.” She turned back to watching her little boy push a toy auto on the floor.

“I’m glad I don’t feel that way.” Bayly didn’t want to say it, but he felt compelled.

“Why?” This time the woman didn’t turn toward Bayly, but kept watching her child.

“Because we covered our little boy up with dirt yesterday afternoon. I’m in here to thank the doctor for his kindness today.”

“You look like a rational person.” (Bayly was glad she didn’t say, “I’m sorry.”) She was looking straight at him now. “How can you possibly believe that the death of a man, or a little boy, is any different from the death of an animal?” (The Last Thing We Talk About [David C. Cook Publishing], pp. 12-13.) Although Bayly ends the story there, I’m sure that he went on to tell her the basis for his hope in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Years ago I answered the phone and someone said, “Father Cole?” I said, “I am a father, but I’m probably not the guy you’re looking for.” He wanted the Catholic priest, but when he found out I was an official minister, that was good enough, so he asked me to conduct the funeral for his father. A son, a daughter, and her husband came in to see me before the funeral. After we had talked a while, I said, “At a time like this, you probably would like to know what the Bible says about what happens after we die. As I talked about the gospel, they got upset and said, “Are you saying our dad is not in heaven?” I had not said anything about their father. I replied, “I didn’t know your father, and I know nothing of what took place between him and God. I was simply telling you, not what I think, but what the Bible says, about how a person can go to heaven. I thought that you would want to know that important information.”

That’s the most important thing I can share with you today. The most crucial question you can settle is, “Am I ready to die?” Many people have a false hope for heaven. They think that God is loving and good, so He won’t judge sin or send anybody, except the very worst of sinners, to hell. They assume that if you’ve lived a good life, that’s going to be good enough when they stand before God.

An Indiana cemetery has a tombstone, over 100 years old, which bears the words, “Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be, so prepare for death and follow me.”

Some unknown passerby scratched this reply: “To follow you, I’m not content, until I know which way you went.”

Jesus plainly taught that there are two ways to go. He spoke often of both heaven and hell. The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). It also promises that if you will repent of your sin and trust in Jesus as your Savior, you will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). That’s the only solid hope in the face of death!

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some ways Christians communicate the mistaken notion that “to show grief is not spiritual”? When does grief become excessive?
  2. How would you defend, biblically, that it is possible to be grieving deeply and yet be trusting God fully?
  3. What has helped you most and least when you were grieving? Why?
  4. What do you say to someone whose loved one has just died without knowing Christ? How do you share hope in that situation?

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, Comfort, Faith, Widowhood

Lesson 84: Forgiving One Another (Genesis 50:15-21)

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Three mean-looking guys on motorcycles pulled into a truck stop cafe where a truck driver, a little guy, was sitting at the counter, quietly eating his lunch. The three thugs saw him, grabbed his food, and laughed in his face. The truck driver didn’t say a word. He got up, paid for his food and walked out.

One of the bikers, unhappy that they hadn’t succeeded in provoking the little man into a fight, bragged to the waitress, “He sure wasn’t much of a man, was he?”

The waitress replied, “No, I guess not.” Then, glancing out the window she added, “I guess he’s not much of a truck driver, either. He just ran over three motorcycles.”

The familiar saying, “Don’t get mad, just get even” sums up the world’s philosophy of how to deal with someone who wrongs you. But in contrast to the world’s way, God prescribes a radical approach when we are wronged: We are to be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).

It’s easy to say that, but it’s tough to apply it. The difficulty increases in proportion to how badly you’ve been hurt. When you’ve been hurt badly, you don’t feel like forgiving the person, even if he repents, at least not until he’s suffered a while. You want him to know what it feels like. You want him to pay.

Some of you are struggling with those feelings right now. Your pain may be from a recent situation, or it may go back for years. But if you’re bitter and unforgiving, you’re not obeying the two great commandments, to love God and to love others. Bitterness not only displeases God; it spreads to others, defiling many (Heb. 12:15). So if we want to please God, we must ask, How can we root out bitterness and truly forgive those who have wronged us?

Joseph had to avoid bitterness and learn to forgive. He had been repeatedly hurt, but he didn’t develop a trace of bitterness. His own brothers had planned to kill him, but sold him into slavery at the last moment. As Potiphar’s slave, Joseph’s life is a classic lesson on how to overcome bitterness. He was faithful and upright, but was falsely accused of attempted rape by Potiphar’s wife. He spent years in prison and was forgotten by a man he had helped, who could have pled his case with Pharaoh. Yet in spite of all this, Joseph never grew bitter toward God or toward those who had wronged him.

Now, after his father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers began to worry. They couldn’t forget how they had wronged him. They knew that he had forgiven them 17 years before. But now that dad was dead, would Joseph pay them back for all the wrong they had done to him? So they sent a message to Joseph saying that their father, before his death, had charged them to tell Joseph to forgive their sin against him. The brothers may have been making this up, because Jacob would have talked directly to Joseph if he had been concerned about the matter. But at any rate, Joseph’s response shows that he truly had forgiven his brothers. From Joseph’s attitude in these verses, we can learn how to forgive others who have wronged us:

To forgive others, we must take our proper place before God and express the proper attitude toward others.

Joseph’s attitude was the key to his great success in life. Notice, first, his attitude toward God.

1. To forgive others, we must take our proper place before God.

When Joseph’s brothers approached him, his spontaneous response was to weep, which showed his tender heart. Then he reassured his brothers and asked: “Am I in God’s place?” (50:19). Even though Joseph was the second most powerful man on the face of the earth, a man who could have given the command and had his brothers imprisoned or executed with no questions asked, Joseph didn’t forget that he was not in God’s place. He assumed his proper place under God.

Joseph’s question is a good one to ask yourself when you’re tempted to withhold forgiveness or to seek vengeance against someone who has wronged you: Am I in God’s place? Joseph was powerful in the world’s eyes, but he knew he was never big enough to take God’s place. To take our proper place before God involves three things:

A. We must allow God to be the judge of all.

The Lord says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). He’s the only competent judge, the one who knows the thoughts and intentions of every person’s heart. We need to trust Him to deal rightly with each person.

Most of us want God’s justice for the guy who wronged us, but God’s mercy for ourselves. But to love our neighbor as ourselves means that we will want God’s mercy for him, just as we want it for ourselves. I’m convinced that one reason Joseph forgave his brothers is that he always remembered that he had no claim against God, no matter how severe the treatment he received. He allowed God to be the judge of his brothers and of himself. Taking our proper place before God also means:

B. We must humble ourselves under God’s sovereignty.

When terrible things happen to you, you have two options: Either God is sovereign and, for some reason, He allowed it to happen; or, God isn’t sovereign and this one slipped by Him. Rabbi Kushner, in his best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, argued that God means well, but He can’t quite cope with all the evil in the world. I find that “solution” awfully depressing. What kind of God is that?

The Bible declares that God is the sovereign God who “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Nothing, including the evil deeds of wicked men, can thwart God’s plan. Joseph saw this clearly. He says to his brothers, “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” (50:20). What a great perspective to have when people wrong you!

I don’t say that glibly. Some terrible things have happened to godly people down through the centuries. Missionaries have been slaughtered for trying to take the gospel to people who desperately needed to hear it. Godly pastors have been falsely accused and driven from their churches. Faithful spouses have been devastated when their mates left them for someone else. Innocent children have been abused by a parent they trusted. The list could go on and on.

The Bible doesn’t hide this sort of thing. John the Baptist, the man most highly praised by Jesus Christ, was beheaded at the whim of a drunken king. The apostle James was murdered by a tyrant as a young man. Many of God’s choicest servants were persecuted and murdered (see Heb. 11:36-38). But none of that threatens the sovereignty of God.

You may not like it, but you’ve got to submit to the sovereignty of God in your life when someone wrongs you. Although you may not know the reason this side of eternity, God sovereignly allowed this person to wrong you for some purpose. To forgive the person as God commands, you must submit to God’s mighty hand in the situation.

So to take our proper place before God means allowing Him to be the judge of all; humbling ourselves under His sovereignty; and,

C. We must believe that God is good in all His ways.

“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” That’s the Old Testament equivalent of Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

The classic philosophic problem of suffering revolves around the question of how God can be both sovereign (or all-powerful) and good at the same time. If He were good, then He wouldn’t will our suffering; if He were powerful, He would do something about it. Yet we suffer. Thus, God must be either weak or not good.

There are several fallacies in that syllogism. It ignores the presence of sin in the world as the reason for suffering. Also, it assumes that all suffering is bad. But in our fallen world, God often brings great good out of terrible suffering. Also, the argument assumes that God must alleviate suffering immediately, while the Bible affirms that God’s final solution will only come when He creates a new heavens and earth.

When someone wrongs you, you need to be on guard. Satan tempted Eve by getting her to doubt the goodness of God. He implied that God was withholding something good by keeping the forbidden fruit from her. The devil will tempt you by whispering, “If God really cared for you, He wouldn’t have let this happen.” No doubt Joseph often had to resist that temptation over the years. But in each case, Joseph affirmed by faith, “They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Elisabeth Elliot, whose first husband was murdered by the savage people he was trying to reach for Christ, and whose second husband died of cancer, wrote, “The experiences of my life are not such that I could infer from them that God is good, gracious and merciful necessarily. To have had one husband murdered and another one disintegrate, body, soul and spirit, through cancer, is not what you would call a proof of the love of God. In fact, there are many times when it looks like just the opposite. My belief in the love of God is not by inference or instinct. It is by faith.” (Cited by James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 3:332.)

There’s a way you can tell whether you have taken your proper place before God or not: Do you grumble about your circumstances or about the people who have mistreated you? If you do, you aren’t in submission to the sovereign goodness of God. You may not think you’re grumbling against God. You’d say you’re angry with the person who did you in. But really, you’re angry at God, grumbling against Him for allowing it to happen. You’ve got to deal with your attitude before God or you’ll live and die a bitter, unforgiving person. You must come to the place where you can say, “That person meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, and I submit to and trust His purpose in it all.”

2. To forgive others we must express the proper attitude toward them.

Our attitude is often revealed in our spontaneous reaction. Joseph wept. I think he wept because he suddenly saw that his brothers still didn’t trust him, even after 17 years of what Joseph thought was a restored relationship. They were trying to use their dead father’s influence to protect themselves, when there wasn’t any need for protection. Joseph’s attitude reflects three qualities we must express if we want to forgive others:

A. To forgive others, we must be humble.

When somebody wrongs you, it’s easy to become proud. You start thinking, “I’m better than that jerk! I’d never do to anybody what he did to me.” That proud spirit leaks out in a lot of ways that prevent you from truly forgiving the other person. But Joseph here comes across with a humble spirit. He’s not lording it over his brothers, even though he could have. He puts himself on their level, under God, and lets them know that they’re forgiven. He shows us how to express true humility in forgiving those who have offended us.

1) You don’t use your power to make the other person pay for what he did. Joseph could have made his brothers pay dearly for their sin. He could have enslaved, imprisoned, or killed them and their children. He could have let them sweat under the fear that someday the axe might fall. But Joseph reassured his brothers with the words, “Do not be afraid.”

The real test of forgiveness is when you have the power to make the other person pay, but you choose not to use it. Forgiveness absorbs the wrongs others have done without exacting payment. If there’s payment, there’s no need for forgiveness.

2) You don’t keep score. Joseph didn’t say, “You guys owe me big time. So now that dad’s gone, pay up.” No, Joseph wasn’t keeping score.

There are Christians who carry scorecards. They keep track of every wrong their mate has ever done. They stay in power by reminding them of the score. They can’t forget what someone at church said about them. It doesn’t matter if the person has sought their forgiveness. Like a cow chewing its cud, they keep bringing it up: “Do you know what Mrs. Jones said about me?”

After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that Union soldiers had destroyed its limbs and trunk. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least for sympathy for her loss. After a brief silence, the general said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.”

That’s good counsel: Throw away the scorecard! Forgive and forget it! Joseph had named his firstborn son Manasseh, which means “making to forget,” because he said, “God has made me to forget all my trouble” (41:51). Forgetting doesn’t mean having amnesia. It means that you make a deliberate decision to put the incident behind and not bring it up for ammunition again.

3) You don’t put the offender down. Often, we extend forgiveness in a way that makes the other person feel beneath us. We use his offense to make him feel like the scum of the earth. We come across as the most big-hearted guy on the earth to forgive his offense. But Joseph didn’t do that with his brothers. He put himself on the same level they’re on, under God.

4) You don’t take offense easily. If Joseph had been proud of his forgiving spirit, he would have been offended at his brothers’ plea. They hadn’t understood his real motives and it hurts to be misunderstood, especially when you mean well. “How dare they imply that I haven’t forgiven them? How can they be so ungrateful?” But instead of being offended, Joseph was grieved because his brothers still lived under a cloud of fear and mistrust.

Some people are always reading between the lines, assigning wrong motives to the other guy. A few years ago, I went to call on a man who had left the church. He told me that our elders were unfriendly. I asked him which elders were unfriendly. He named one. I asked what this man had done. “He walked right past me at church and didn’t even look at me or say hello.” I said, “He probably had something else on his mind. I walk past people at church every week without saying hello, but it doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly or don’t like them! If you think that elder has something against you, go to him and get it cleared up.” But he wouldn’t do it. If you’re easily offended, you’re proud, and you’ll never be able to forgive others.

5) You don’t remind the offender of how you were right and he was wrong. Joseph’s brothers came and fell down before him (50:18). Guess what flashed into his mind? His dreams from years before! But Joseph didn’t say, “Hey, guys, remember my dreams? I was right and you were wrong.” God had vindicated Joseph and exalted him, but Joseph didn’t exalt himself.

If you have a humble attitude toward those who wronged you, you don’t bring up the past as ammunition, to remind them how you were right and they were wrong. Instead, you let it drop and you try to make them feel at ease.

Humility is the first ingredient in a proper attitude toward those who have wronged you.

B. To forgive others, we must speak the truth in love.

Joseph’s brothers didn’t say to him, “If we wronged you somehow, we’re sorry,” as if it was an accident. They were honest in admitting that they sinned against him (50:15, 17). For his part, Joseph didn’t say, “Hey, no big deal. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.” Rather, he was gently honest when he said, “You meant evil against me.”

True forgiveness doesn’t deny the offense or cover it as if it didn’t hurt. But neither is it brutal in rubbing it in. For healing to take place, the offended person needs to admit his guilt and know that you heard him. Joseph’s brothers needed to hear him agree that they had wronged him, because they couldn’t be sure he had forgiven them until they were sure that the offense was in the open.

Two questions about forgiveness come up at this point. I can only touch on them briefly. First, Does forgiveness require that I don’t press charges when someone has criminally wronged my family or me? I believe that you may forgive an offender personally, but for the protection of society and the upholding of justice, go ahead and prosecute. God has ordained government to punish wrongdoers and to carry out justice. So forgiving a person doesn’t necessarily mean that I must drop the charges, although God at times may lead me to do so.

The second question is, Should I forgive a person who is not repentant? The Bible is clear that we are to forgive just as God has forgiven us. God doesn’t extend forgiveness until we repent. But, God aggressively offers forgiveness to us and seeks through His kindness to bring us to repentance. He paid the price for our forgiveness in the death of His Son while we were still His enemies. The barrier to reconciliation wasn’t with God; it was our own lack of repentance.

So we must distinguish between forgiving the person in our heart and extending forgiveness to him verbally. We must forgive the person in our heart before he repents, which means that we will sincerely pray for God’s mercy toward him; we will look for ways to be kind; we will make it clear that we want to restore the relationship. We’ve got to root out our bitterness by submitting to the sovereign goodness of God. Then, the moment the offender repents, like the father of the prodigal son, we rush to welcome and embrace him. That leads to the third aspect of our attitude toward others:

C. To forgive others, we must actively care.

Joseph could have said, “I forgive you guys. Now get out of my life!” But instead, he provided personally for them and their families (50:21). His words of forgiveness proved themselves in his kind deeds long after the fact. Words are nothing if they aren’t backed up by action. If you say that you forgive someone, but you couldn’t care less what happens to him after that, you haven’t really forgiven. A forgiving spirit shows itself in kind deeds.

Conclusion

Dr. Henry Brandt tells of a man he visited in Uganda. As they drove to his home, they passed a huge, beautiful home. The man told Dr. Brandt that he used to own that house. They headed out a dirt road and pulled up to a mud shack. The only furniture inside on the dirt floor was a wood packing crate, which the two men sat upon. The man related how he used to be a wealthy businessman. One day Idi Amin’s soldiers came and took his Mercedes. He burned with anger as he saw them driving his car through the streets. Then they took his business. He was even angrier. Finally they took over his home for their headquarters. He moved to this mud hut.

One day a missionary stopped by the mud hut and told this man about God’s love in Christ. The man threw the missionary out, but he kept coming back. The man finally accepted Christ and as a result, he was able to forgive those soldiers who had taken away all of his material possessions. He told Dr. Brandt, “Because through Christ I have forgiven those soldiers, I am the richest man in all of Uganda.”

Bitterness holds your soul in bondage and hinders God’s blessings from flowing to you and through you. Forgiveness frees you to experience God’s abundant grace and to make you a channel of that grace even toward those who wronged you. God has not put anyone through anything He Himself was not willing to experience. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to seek our welfare, but was rejected and killed. He suffered, the just for the unjust, in order to offer us God’s forgiveness. You may never in this life understand the why of your wrong treatment. But Jesus understands, because He suffered much more than any of us ever could. If we will learn to submit to His sovereign goodness when we are wronged and assume an attitude of humility, honesty in love, and caring toward those who have offended us, we will grow to know Him.

Discussion Questions

  1. If vengeance is wrong, how do you explain the imprecatory psalms? Should we ever pray those psalms against our enemies?
  2. How can a victim of rape, child abuse, or some terrible crime honestly believe that God meant it for good?
  3. How do you get the feeling of forgiveness when you don’t have it?
  4. Agree/disagree: A person can truly forgive and yet press charges against the offender?

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: Forgiveness, Spiritual Life

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