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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

Lesson 85: A Mindset for Enduring Trials (Genesis 50:20)

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Two boys were walking along a street when they encountered a large dog blocking the sidewalk. “Don’t be afraid,” one of the boys told his more timid companion. “Look at his tail, how it wags. When a dog wags his tail he won’t bite you.”

“That may be,” admitted the other, “but look at that wild gleam in his eye. He looks like he wants to eat us alive. … Which end are we going to believe?”

You may have felt like those two boys when you’ve had to face trials in your life. The Bible exhorts us to “count it all joy” when we encounter various trials (James 1:2). We are assured that God is working all things together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). But sometimes we aren’t quite convinced whether to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises or that wild gleam in the eye of the big trial confronting us. What if we count it all joy and the trial bites us?

Joseph was a man who had developed a godly mindset that carried him through the many trials in his life. He had been badly mistreated by his own family, as well as by others whom he had not wronged. He spent the better part of his twenties in an Egyptian dungeon, separated from his father, not knowing if he would ever see him again. Yet in spite of all these trials, he could say to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). He knew that even though his brothers hated him at the time and were trying to get rid of him, behind them it was God who was at work, sending Joseph to Egypt for God’s sovereign purposes (Gen. 45:5, 7, 8). Joseph’s trust in the sovereign goodness of God carried him through these terrible trials with a joyful spirit, free from bitterness and complaining. That same mindset will help us bear up under trials:

To bear up under trials, we must trust in the sovereign goodness of God in every situation.

A mistaken idea, widely promoted in Christian circles, is that all trials are from the devil and that a good God would never send trials to His children. Thus when we are hit by a trial, whether sickness or a difficult person or a financial setback, we are supposed to rebuke the devil and claim our victory by faith. If we don’t experience fairly rapid deliverance, then our faith may be defective. I believe that this is a faulty paradigm for facing trials. We need to see that …

1. God is sovereign over all, even over the evil things people do.

In this fallen world, there are many evil people who will seek to harm you. Often, as with Joseph, these evil people are close family members. It may be a parent who abused you emotionally, physically, or even sexually when you were a child. In Joseph’s case, his half brothers hated him and would have killed him had not the slave traders providentially come by at just the right moment.

What is even more galling, often the family members who mistreated you seem to be doing quite well in life. Genesis 38 shows how Judah, who had suggested selling Joseph into slavery, was doing quite well even though he was so far from God that he didn’t hesitate to go in to what he thought was a harlot for a moment’s pleasure. He had his pagan friends and seemed to be enjoying life, all the while that Joseph was grinding out an existence as a slave in a foreign country.

You have to keep in mind as you work through Joseph’s story that at the time he was suffering, Joseph didn’t know how the story would turn out. He didn’t know yet that if he just held on for a few years, God would raise him up as second to Pharaoh. But it is clear that he knew one thing for certain, that God is sovereign, even over the evil things people do (45:5, 7, 8; 50:20). Joseph’s trust in the sovereign God carried him through many bleak days in the dungeon.

Let me clarify that trusting in God’s sovereignty does not mean that you must passively endure the situation. If you are a child being abused, you need to report it to proper authorities. If you are being badly mistreated at work or at school, you may need to take some action to deal with it. What I’m saying is that there is great comfort for the believer in knowing that, however difficult your situation, the sovereign God is still in control. The devil is not in control; evil people are not in control; God is in control.

Many Scriptures teach us that God is sovereign even over evil men, and yet He is completely unstained by their sin. In the story of Job, the Chaldeans raided and stole Job’s camels, killing his servants who kept them (Job 1:17). These wicked men were not acting simply on their own accord, but were impelled by Satan. And yet God was over Satan, giving him permission to go so far and no farther. Satan could not do anything unless God willed it.

Take another story: God willed that the wicked King Ahab be killed in battle. How did God do it? A demon presented himself before God with the plan that he go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets. God granted permission; the wicked prophets prophesied falsely; Ahab believed them, so that he was killed. God’s righteous judgment was carried out by a demon using deception, and yet God is not tainted by the evil. The prophets were responsible for following demonic counsel.

Samson wanted to marry a Philistine woman, which was clearly a sinful thing. His parents tried in vain to dissuade him from doing such a thing. Yet, we read, “his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4). Samson was sinning, yet God sovereignly used that sin to achieve His righteous judgment!

Many more examples abound in Scripture. David’s son Absalom sinfully committed incest with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel, yet God declares the work to be His own: “You did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel” (2 Sam. 12:12). Rehoboam foolishly rejected the counsel of his elders, resulting in the division of the kingdom, but “it was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His word” through his prophet (1 Kings 12:15). Nebuchadnezzar selfishly and brutally wiped out Jerusalem, yet he was doing God’s work and is called God’s servant (Jer. 1:15; 25:9; 27:6; 50:25). Cyrus, another pagan king, who like all pagan kings sought to build his own empire for his own glory, is called God’s anointed, whom God was using for His purpose (Isa. 45:1). Wicked men falsely accused and crucified the Son of God, and yet they only did what God’s hand and purpose predestined to occur (Acts 4:28).

After citing such examples, of which there are many more, John Calvin concludes, “Yet from these it is more than evident that they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God’s providence, substitute bare permission—as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgments thus depended upon human will” (Institutes, 1.18.1).

Joseph not only knew that God was sovereign over the evil his brothers had done; he realized that God is sovereign over even insignificant things that we would tend to shrug off as chance. You’ll recall the story of when his father sent him to check on his brothers, and he didn’t find them at the place where they were supposed to be. A man found Joseph wandering in a field and told him that his brothers had moved the flocks to Dothan. So Joseph went to Dothan and found them. They threw him into the pit, planning to kill him after lunch. But it was precisely at that moment that the trading caravan “happened” by, and they sold him into slavery (37:14-36).

As that caravan made its way south, Joseph had plenty of time to think, “What rotten luck! Why did I happen to run into that man in the field who happened to know where my brothers were? Why did that caravan have to come along just then, when Reuben had indicated that he was going to try to get me out of the pit and back to my dad? Where was God in all this?” But Joseph didn’t believe in luck or happenstance. He believed in a sovereign God who sent him down to Egypt for reasons that, at the time, Joseph did not know (45:5, 7, 8).

Thus it is important to affirm God’s sovereignty not only over the major things that happen, but also over the little daily mundane details of life. Car problems, traffic jams, interruptions, clogged drains, sick kids, and a million other frustrations in life, as well as the bad things that evil people do to you, are under God’s sovereignty. Nothing and no one can thwart God’s sovereign, loving purpose toward you in Christ. He will work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We need that mindset to endure trials.

But, also, we must understand and affirm that …

2. God is good in everything He does.

“God meant it for good” (50:20). He “works all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28). As God said through Jeremiah to the exiles who had been carried off to Babylon, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jer. 29:11). Although God’s people may suffer terribly, they must affirm by faith with the psalmist, that even though God afflicts us with trials, He is good and does good in all His ways (Ps. 119:67-68; 75).

Most of us are quick to see God’s goodness in the blessings of life, but not so quick to discern His goodness in the trials. Jacob was like that. When his sons returned from their first trip down to Egypt to buy grain, and the unknown lord of the land (Joseph) had taken Simeon captive and was demanding that Benjamin accompany them on the return visit, Jacob wailed, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me” (42:36). But, in fact, all these things were not against him. The truth was, God was for him. Even the trial of the famine was being used to reunite him with his beloved Joseph and to provide for all his needs for the rest of his life.

I have often profited spiritually from the incident in the life of David where he hit bottom. He had gotten himself into a mess because he had doubted the sovereign goodness of God in his life. God had promised David that he would sit on the throne of Israel, but for years he had been chased by the mad King Saul. In a moment of despair, David said, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam. 27:1). So he went and allied himself with the pagan Achish, King of Gath.

For a while David was able to play the dangerous game of convincing this pagan king that he was on his side. At first, things seemed to go much better for David and his men. Saul stopped pursuing them. Achish gave David a city, Ziklag, where he and his men could live with their families, instead of having to hide in caves.

But then a ticklish situation came up, where Achish and the Philistine warlords were going into battle against Saul. David went up with them, pretending to be one of them. But it was awkward for him to be going into battle against the Lord’s people, including his dear friend, Jonathan. At the last minute, God rescued him by making the Philistine warlords insist that he not accompany them into battle. So David and his men returned to Ziklag.

That’s when the bottom dropped out. Raiders had burned Ziklag with fire and had taken all their wives and children captive. David’s men were so upset that they were talking about stoning him.

But then comes a great verse: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6). I can’t say for certain what all that entailed. But, based on his many Psalms, I believe that David probably confessed his sin of doubting God’s sovereign goodness when he had gone over to Achish. He also probably reaffirmed God’s gracious covenant promises. He definitely humbled himself under God’s sovereign hand, because he inquired of God as to whether he should go after the raiders and recover their wives and children. That was not an easy thing to do! What if God had said, “No”? But David now was bowing before God’s sovereign lordship.

But the great thing about the story is that even though David had brought about many of his troubles by his own lack of faith, God was graciously working things out to give him the kingdom. In the battle against the Philistines, Saul and Jonathan were killed, opening the way for David’s taking the throne. God graciously allowed David and his men to recover their wives and children, along with much spoil. So even though it seemed to David in his low point that God was not good, he could look back and see how God’s sovereign goodness was directing all the events of those difficult years.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out how when difficult things happen to us, and we are quick to grumble and wonder why God would allow this to happen, and even to doubt His love, it should awaken us to our own sinfulness. We should realize in a new and deeper way how prone we are to harbor unworthy thoughts of the God who has loved us with an everlasting love, and we should be humbled. But, he points out, such humility is good for us, and anything that so humbles us is working together for our good. It also shows us our desperate need of God’s forgiveness, help, and strength. “It is only in this way,” he concludes, “that we really get to know the love and grace of God, His kindness, His compassion, His tenderness, His patience, His longsuffering. How little we know of them!” He sums it up by saying “that our greatest trouble is our ignorance of God. We know things about God, but our real trouble is our ignorance of God Himself—what He really is, and what He is to His people.” (Romans, The Final Perseverance of the Saints [Zondervan], pp. 166-168).

This affirmation of God’s goodness, even in our trials, has been the refrain of the saints down through history. John Calvin cites many Scriptures that show how God tenderly cares for and protects His children. He sums it up: “Indeed, the principal purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone [Ps. 91:12]”(Institutes, 1.17.6).

In 1895, the beloved pastor and writer, Andrew Murray, was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. One morning while he was eating breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Just give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what he had written:

“In time of trouble, say, ‘First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.’ Next, ‘He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.’ Then say, ‘He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.’ And last, say, ‘In His good time He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows.’ Therefore, say ‘I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in His keeping, (3) under His training, (4) for His time.”

So in times of trial, we can and must know that God is sovereign, even over the evil things people may do to us. But also we must know that God is good and that He will work every situation together for good for His children. Finally, knowing this, …

3. We must trust the sovereign goodness of God in the midst of our trials.

The reason we must trust God is that it may be years, or perhaps only in eternity, before we figure out specifically how God is using our trials for good. Joseph had to keep trusting for years as he sat in that Egyptian dungeon. Every morning when he awoke in that foul place, he had to direct his thoughts to God and say, “Lord, I trust that You have some good and loving purpose in this situation. I submit to Your sovereign purpose, even though I do not understand.” He may have had to do that a hundred times a day. But I contend that he did it. If he had not, we would not hear him say, “God sent me here”; “God meant it for good.”

Trusting God is a mindset; it occurs in your thought life. It is a mindset that puts God at the center, where He rightfully should be. If we are focused on our happiness as the center, we will not be able to trust or glorify God in the midst of our trials. But, as we have seen, Joseph lived a God-centered life. As Scripture makes clear, God’s glory is the supreme thing in all of life. If we daily, moment-by-moment, put our thoughts on glorifying God, showing by our trusting attitude that He is both sovereign and good, then He will bless us in many ways as a by-product. But if we are focused on our own happiness, we will find it hard to trust God and we will be miserable people.

In the Institutes (1.17.11), John Calvin develops at length the blessings that come to the believer when he learns to live under the loving providence of God. He cites a number of assuring verses from the Psalms: “The Lord is my helper” [Ps. 118:6]; “I will not fear what flesh can do against me” [Ps. 56:4]; “The Lord is my protector; what shall I fear?” [Ps. 27:1]; “If armies should stand together against me” [Ps. 27:3], “if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death [Ps. 23:4], “I will not cease to have good hope” [Ps. 56:5; 71:14]. Then he comments, “Whence, I pray you, do they have this never-failing assurance but from knowing that, when the world appears to be aimlessly tumbled about, the Lord is everywhere at work, and from trusting that his work will be for their welfare?” In other words, they trust in the sovereign goodness of God.

Conclusion

A believer confided with his Christian friend, “I find it terribly hard to trust God, and to sense His presence in the dark passages of life.” “Well,” said his friend, “if you cannot trust a man out of your sight, he isn’t worth much. But you can surely trust God even when He is hidden in the shadows, for you have His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

Another man who loved the Lord was going through deep and discouraging trials, and his trust in God was near the breaking point. One day he went for a walk in an orchard with his young son. The boy wanted to climb an old apple tree, so the father patiently stood below watching. Many of the limbs were dead, and some of them began to break under the boy’s weight. Seeing his son’s plight, the man held up his arms and called, Jump, Buddy, Ill catch you. The boy still hung on, and then as another branch snapped he said, “Shall I let go of everything, Daddy?” “Yes,” came the reassuring reply. Without hesitation, the boy jumped and the father safely caught him.

Later the man said, “That incident was God’s message directly to me! I understood what the Lord was trying to teach me. At that moment I did trust Him completely, and it wasn’t long until He wonderfully supplied my need.” (“Our Daily Bread,” July, 1982).

That’s the mindset we need to endure trials—to trust in the sovereign goodness of God in every situation. Whatever you’re going through, you can know that though others may mean it for evil, God means it for good. He wants you to trust Him so that He will be glorified in your life.

Discussion Questions

  1. We are often told today to let God know how angry we are at Him. Is it sin to be angry at God? Should we be encouraged to express it?
  2. A skeptic sneers, “How can God be good and allow innocent children to be abused?” Your answer?
  3. How can God be sovereign over everything and yet not be responsible for evil?
  4. If God is sovereign, how can we know when to submit passively to some wrong and when to take action against it?

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

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

Related Topics: Faith, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 86: Epitaph Of A Truly Successful Man (Genesis 50:22-26)

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A successful businessman had what he considered to be his greatest stroke of luck: an angel visited him and promised to grant him one wish. The man asked for a copy of the business news one year in the future. As he received it and began to pore over the stock market pages, he drooled as he thought of the killing he would make with his insider knowledge of the future. Then his eyes happened to glance across the page to see his own name--in the obituary column! His perspective and goals for the coming year were suddenly changed as he realized his own mortality.

Our studies of the life of Joseph have helped us define true success. Joseph succeeded in a worldly sense, with his career. But more importantly, he succeeded with God. These final verses of Genesis give us the epitaph of Joseph, a truly successful man. They help us to refine our priorities as we think about the direction of our lives.

These verses that sum up the life of this truly successful man are striking for what they include as well as for what they omit. They include mention of his family, that he lived to see his great-grandchildren. Surprisingly, they exclude any mention of Joseph’s career and position of power in Egypt. They also include Joseph’s final words of faith and hope that he left with his brothers. The book of Genesis, which began with the majestic words, “In the beginning God ...,” and with the description of man and woman enjoying the beauty of the paradise God placed them in, ends with the rather unsettling words that Joseph was “placed in a coffin in Egypt.” It reminds us that any correct definition of success has to take into account the fact of death. This text shows us that:

A truly successful man is one who succeeds spiritually with his family.

Joseph’s brothers may have outlived him, since he gives his final charge to them (although verse 24 could refer to their children). A successful life is not measured by its length. Even though Joseph lived relatively long by today’s standards, he did not live as long as his father (who complained about the shortness of his 147 years) or his grandfather, who lived to 180. But Joseph enjoyed the blessings of God with his family, and he left them with his strong faith and hope in God’s yet-to-be-fulfilled promises.

1. A truly successful man is content with the blessings of family.

In summing up the life of this great man who had fame and fortune, who saved a whole nation from starvation, Moses only mentions the rather simple fact that he lived to see his great-grandsons. The phrase, to be “born on Joseph’s knees,” here is probably a way of picturing this old man joyously holding his newborn great-grandsons on his lap. In this somewhat subtle way, Moses underscores the fact that no matter how successful a man may be, the family is one of God’s greatest blessings. As someone has said, no one ever gets to the end of his life and says, “I wish I had spent more time on my career.”

Moses has woven this theme throughout the book of Genesis. His outline is to trace the generations of various families, beginning with the first family, as seen in the recurring phrase, “These are the records of the generations of ...” (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). God began His work in history with families. At the flood, He saved one family and began over again with them. Then He singled out Abraham and promised to give him a son and through his descendants to bless all the people on earth. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had 12 sons, and those sons are, at the close of Genesis, in the incubation period of becoming the nation from whom God would bring the Savior. Joseph lived to witness the beginning of God’s multiplying his family in line with His earlier promises. That’s what Moses emphasizes as he closes this book.

As you know, the family in America has become increasingly fragmented. There are many factors involved--the erosion of Christian moral and family values, higher divorce rates, more mothers in the work force, and more. The most popular TV shows of the 1950’s, when I grew up--”Leave It To Beaver,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show”--all portrayed what then were fairly normal families: working dad, mom at home, first (and only) marriage, and kids working through the normal struggles of growing up under the wise tutelage of their parents. Now, most people viewing those shows think, “How quaint,” or “How unrealistic!”

It would be naïve to think that these cultural changes have not affected the church. We are more affected by our culture than we care to admit. As Christians, we need to fight this cultural erosion of the family by redefining success in family terms, not in career or financial terms. If I could give you some practical advice, I would say to those of you with young children, do everything you can to have the mom at home during those child-rearing years. I encourage the men to be home with your wife and children as much as possible. Play with your kids, read to them, do things together as a family. Take a yearly vacation together as a family. You will not regret it! You can’t influence your kids with the things of God if you never spend time with them.

Christian author and speaker, Gary Smalley, reports that he interviewed 30 families across the nation that he chose because they all seemed to have close relationships. Their children, though many were teenagers, all seemed to be close to their parents and happy about it. He asked them, “What do you believe is the main reason you’re all so close and happy as a family?” Without exception, each member of the family gave the same answer: “We do a lot of things together.” Even more amazing was that all 30 families had one particular activity in common. Guess what it was? Camping! After he tried it for the first time, Smalley concluded that the reason camping unites a family is that any family that faced sure death together and survived would be closer! (If Only He Knew [Zondervan], pp. 135-137.)

Let’s not forget that God didn’t design our families to be ends in themselves, so that we are simply to enjoy one another. One of the main messages of Genesis is that the godly family is to be God’s channel for blessing those who are separated from God and alienated from one another. We are to pass God’s blessings on within the family, to our own children and grandchildren, but also beyond the family to lost people. And the church is the extended family of God. We are to reach out to lonely, alienated people, showing them how to be rightly related to God and to one another. The church is to model for the world what caring, loving relationships are like.

So the first unusual thing about this epitaph of this great man is that it singles out the blessings of his family life. After all his impressive accomplishments, Joseph was content to see the births of his great-grandchildren.

The second unusual thing about this epitaph is what it omits. If an American reporter had researched and written this story, it would have told about Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and to the fact that he held onto his high government position for 80 years. He was respected by all, no small feat for a politician! But Moses completely skips what we would emphasize the most!

2. A truly successful man is unimpressed with worldly success.

It’s somewhat risky to make a point out of what the text is silent about. But it seems to me that in this case, it’s an awfully loud silence, glaring by its omission. To me it’s saying that a man who is successful in God’s sight is not impressed with what the world labels as success.

Think of who Joseph was: The Prime Minister of the most advanced, civilized nation on earth in his day. Not many men can handle that kind of power and fame for even a short while. Yet Joseph remained in his position for 80 years, through the reigns of at least three Pharaohs. And it never went to his head.

Often Christians relate to the world in one of two unbalanced extremes. Either they separate so much from the world that they are too detached to have any impact. Granted, not too many Christians are like this, but there are a few.

The other extreme is Christians who buy into the world completely. They seek after the money and status symbols the world offers. They live for the same goals the world lives for. There’s no observable difference between them and the world, except that sometimes they go to church on Sunday mornings.

But Joseph maintained that fine balance of being in the world, but not of it. He held a difficult and important position in a pagan government and did his job well without compromising his faith in the one true God. He was married to an Egyptian wife whose father was a well-known priest in the Egyptian religion. He had to interact socially with the upper crust of Egyptian social circles. Yet when God blessed him with sons, Joseph named them with Hebrew names which gave testimony to his God. And when it came time to die, he did not want to be buried in a fine Egyptian tomb but, rather, he chose to be identified with the unsophisticated, unimpressive covenant people of God. It would have been so easy for Joseph to have groomed his sons for worldly success. But instead, by his dying wish, he communicated that the things of God are far more important than the things of this fleeting world. Joseph was unimpressed with worldly success and acclaim.

George Washington Carver stated rightly that the only advantage of fame is that it gives you a platform for service. The same is true of money for the Christian. If God grants you either fame or money, you have an increased responsibility as His steward. But don’t fall into the common trap of being impressed with worldly success. Instead, like Joseph, identify yourself with God’s people and use any fame or fortune God gives you as a platform for greater influence for His kingdom. Joseph’s epitaph shows us that a successful man is content with the blessings of family and unimpressed with worldly success. Finally,

3. A truly successful man leaves his family faith and hope in God’s promises.

As Joseph was about to die, he left his family the greatest inheritance any man can leave--not money, but faith and hope in God’s promises: “‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of [or, visit] you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here’“ (50:24-25).

That’s a remarkable final charge to his family in light of Joseph's position in Egypt and the fact that he had lived there for the last 93 of his 110 years! The author of Hebrews thought so, because out of all that he could have chosen from Joseph's godly life, he chose this incident to commend Joseph: "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones" (Heb. 11:22). In light of all the space allotted to Joseph in Genesis, it seems a bit strange that this is the only thing for which the New Testament remembers and praises him. It focuses us on the fact that Joseph was a man of faith and hope.

A. A truly successful man leaves his family faith in God’s promises.

Two little words in verse 24 reveal Joseph’s faith. They are words that almost always reveal faith, the words, but God. Jacob, from his deathbed, had said the same thing to Joseph over 50 years before: “I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers” (48:21). Joseph could have thought, “That wasn’t true. God didn’t bring me back, as my father said.” But rather than doubting God’s promise, which is not always fulfilled in our timetable, Joseph, from his deathbed, by faith assured his family, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you [the Hebrew is emphatic], and bring you up from this land to the land which he promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.”

As a proof of that faith, Joseph gave the unusual instructions that he was not to be put into one of the pyramids or some Egyptian tomb. But instead, his body was to be kept accessible enough that when Israel went back to Canaan, they were to carry Joseph’s bones with them! Bible scholars are divided on the chronology, but it was between 200 to 400 years later when Moses finally led Israel out of Egypt. They had to leave in haste, two million people heading out through the desert with all their belongings and livestock.

Yet in all that confusion, after all those years, we read in Exodus 13:19 that Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. During all those years of slavery and oppression in Egypt, Joseph’s bones stood as a witness of faith in God’s promises to Israel: “We’re not going to stay in Egypt forever. Remember Joseph’s bones!”

Who do you suppose got the job of carrying Joseph’s mummy out of Egypt? If their wagons were like our car when we leave on vacation, I can’t imagine anyone telling Moses, “Sure, we have some extra room. Just stuff that mummy right here by the sleeping bags!” Do you suppose some Hebrew family was grumbling, “Here we are taking off across the desert with everything we own, and Moses insists that we haul along this mummy!”

But the significance of that mummy was that it said to Israel, many of whom were unbelieving grumblers, “God can be trusted to keep His promises.” It may take 400 years, but you can count on it. If God promised, that should be enough for our trust. But when God promises on oath, then what excuse do we have for not believing Him?

Joseph’s family had leaned on him for support. But he taught them to look beyond himself to the living God who would support them after he was gone: “I am about to die, but God ....” That’s a great thing to leave to your family—”but God!” Teach your family that in the little problems as well as in the major crises of life, we have the God of Jacob as our refuge and strength (Ps. 46). We can go to His Word for wisdom and go to Him in prayer to make our requests known to Him. Leave your family faith in God’s promises.

B. A truly successful man leaves his family hope in God’s promises.

Faith and hope are closely related. As Hebrews 11:1 [NIV] puts it, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hope is not an uncertain, vague wish. It is certain because God promised, but it’s not yet realized. Hope involves an attitude of patient expectancy as we wait for God to do what He has promised.

Hope is often displayed against the backdrop of severe trials. Joseph’s descendants would be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years before God visited them with deliverance in Moses. Even then, God seemed to be in no hurry, from a human perspective. He set Moses aside in the desert for 40 years of additional training before he was ready to lead Israel out of bondage. During those 400 years there is no record of the Lord appearing to any of Israel’s descendants. It’s interesting, by the way, that in spite of Joseph’s godliness, there is no record of God appearing to him as He had done to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So during all those years of oppression, when God was silent, His people had to hang on to the hope of God’s promise made to their fathers hundreds of years before.

The book of Genesis ends on this note of hope, that God will surely visit His people. He did, as the book of Exodus makes clear. But that wasn’t a final visitation. The Old Testament ends with the Lord giving the hope of the coming of “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” ... (Mal. 4:5-6). But then there were 400 more silent years, when God’s people languished under the oppression of foreign rule, with no word from God. Then Zecharias, the father of that second Elijah, John the Baptist, prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1:68).

Zecharias was prophesying of Jesus Christ, born in fulfillment of God’s promises that had gone unfulfilled for almost 2,000 years. Jesus Christ provided salvation from God’s judgment for all who will accept His death on the cross as God’s free gift. But after His death and resurrection, He did not remain to set up His kingdom on this earth, but returned to heaven. As He ascended, the angel told the apostles, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

And so the final book of the Bible ends by looking forward in hope to that great event: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). And now, almost 2,000 years later, we know that His return is near. We are to be looking for His coming in holy conduct and godliness, with expectant hope (see 2 Pet. 3:3-13).

Conclusion

Are you leaving your family a legacy of faith and hope in the promises of God? So often, as adults we grow cynical, negative, and unbelieving. Let’s face it, there’s a lot in life to shove us in that direction. But if you’re always grumbling, if you have a cynical attitude, you’ll poison your family toward God.

A six-year-old boy found a penny and excitedly showed it to his grandmother. Like many adults who have lost the simple perspective of children, she said, “What’s so great about finding a penny? You can’t buy anything with it.”

“Oh yes, you can!” the boy shot back. “You can buy a dream in a wishing well.”

There’s a big difference, of course, between a dream in a wishing well and the sure promises of God. But the boy’s spirit of expectancy was right. As men, ordained by God to lead our families and to pass on to them the legacy of God’s promises, we need to convey to them that even after we’re gone, they can trust and hope in the living God and He will not disappoint them.

Put yourself in the place of that businessman who saw his own name in the obituary column. You’ve only got a year to live. What do you want to leave your family: a successful career or faith and hope in the promises of God? True success is succeeding spiritually with your family.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some forces that have served to tear apart the American family? How can we fight against them?
  2. Is it wrong for a man to strive for career success? If so, how can he endure work? If not, how can he keep his priorities straight?
  3. Is it wrong for a Christian mother to pursue a career? Why/ why not?
  4. What are some practical ways Christian parents can instill faith and hope in their children?

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

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

Related Topics: Christian Home, Discipleship, Fathers, Mothers, Parenting

From the series: Genesis PREVIOUS PAGE

Lesson 87: From The Garden To A Coffin (Genesis Recap)

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Our family does a lot of hiking when we’re on vacation. Sometimes you take a hike that meanders through the forest and you begin to wonder where you’re going. Then, you finally come out on a high point, where you can look back and see the way you came. Suddenly the whole thing fits together in a way it hadn’t before as you see the relationship between the parts and the whole.

We’ve spent the better part of two years hiking through Genesis, enjoying the details as we’ve gone from chapter to chapter. Many of you have started attending this church since that time, so you didn’t have the benefit of the first message, when I gave an overview of the book and some of its themes. The rest of you have probably long since forgotten that overview. So I thought it would be profitable, now that we’ve walked through the book, to give a final recap of this first book of the Bible, to look back from the summit and see where we’ve come.

In broad outline, Genesis answers the question, “How did it all begin?” It starts with the creation and the first man and woman, without sin, in the Garden of Eden. It ends with Joseph in a coffin in Egypt. Of course the pivotal event, which led from that glorious beginning to that disturbing conclusion, was the fall of the human race into sin. Genesis graphically portrays the effects of sin on the human race. But it also shows God’s great mercy in redeeming fallen man and calling out a people for His purpose, a channel for His blessing to all nations. Moses, the author, is supplying the historical basis for God’s covenant with His people, Israel. He wanted them to know where they had come from and where they were going. God had promised Canaan to them; thus there was no future for them in Egypt or in the wilderness. Moses wrote Genesis to show Israel that they must, by faith and obedience, go forward to conquer the land God had promised to give them.

Genesis hinges at the call of Abraham in chapter 12 into two major sections, each with four subsections:

1. Human history from Adam to Abraham: The beginnings of the human race (chap. 1-11).

A. Creation (1-2)

B. Fall (3)

C. Flood: Increase of sin culminating in judgment at the flood (4-9)

D. Dispersion: Sin after the flood, culminating in the judgment at Babel (10-11)

2. Human history from Abraham to Joseph: The beginnings of the chosen race (12-50).

A. Abraham (12-24)

B. Isaac (25-26)

C. Jacob (27-36)

D. Joseph (37-50)

The sovereign hand of God over human history is a major emphasis in all of these events. By reading Genesis, God’s people can see that He is behind all their history. He is the one who has brought them to where they are, and He has promised many blessings regarding their future. And yet God’s sovereignty doesn’t negate human responsibility, as is demonstrated in the lives of the characters of Genesis. God confronted Cain with his anger, but Cain disregarded God’s warning and went on to murder his brother. Noah, on the other hand, refused to go along with his godless contemporaries and was delivered from God’s judgment through his obedient faith in building the ark. Throughout the book there are marked contrasts between those who obeyed God and were blessed and those who disobeyed and suffered the consequences: Abraham and Lot; Ishmael and Isaac; Esau and Jacob; Joseph and his brothers.

Genesis is rich in theology. As I mentioned in my first message, someone has said, “The roots of all subsequent revelation are planted deep in Genesis, and whoever would truly comprehend that revelation must begin here.” I am not going to attempt to go through the many doctrines and topics treated in Genesis nor to mention all the beginnings that are covered. But I’d like to point out some of the fundamental teachings about God and man as we look at the central theme of Genesis.

God has graciously redeemed us from the curse of sin so that we may be His channel for blessing all people.

1. Genesis tells us who God is.

The book begins by bringing the reader face to face with the awesome reality of God as the creator of all that is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is no introduction to lead up to the point, no argument to prove His existence, no room for speculation or curiosity. By revelation, not speculation, we are brought face to face with the eternal God who spoke the universe into existence. There’s not even time to duck. You must either accept God as the source of all or reject Him. The Bible begins with an authoritative declaration that demands a response to the Creator of the universe.

The revelation of God’s awesome power in creation might tend to put us off, to make us feel like we can’t approach such an omnipotent God. Yet the early chapters of Genesis show that the omnipotent God is also a personal God who communicates with the people He has created. He talks with Adam and gives him meaningful work to do in the garden. He knows Adam’s need for a helper and creates Eve for his wife. The first couple communes with God each day in the garden.

But just when we’re starting to relax and feel like we might be able to approach this awesome, but personal God, sin enters the picture and we see God pronouncing curses on the serpent, the woman, the man, and the ground. We learn that God does not take sin lightly as He expels the fallen couple from the garden. Then, as sin spreads through the fallen human race, we recoil at God’s terrible judgments in the flood and again at the tower of Babel. We see that God is a holy God who must judge all sin.

But in all of this, there is hope. Rather than striking the fallen couple in the garden dead on the spot, God graciously offered them hope in the promise of the seed of the woman. He would bruise the serpent’s head, although the serpent would bruise him on the heel (3:15). This is the earliest promise in the Bible of the coming of Christ the Savior, born of a woman (not a man, through the virgin birth). In His death, He was bruised on the heel, and it seemed as if Satan had triumphed. But Christ’s resurrection turned what seemed like Satan’s victory into his defeat, as the seed of the woman bruised the serpent’s head.

Then God graciously provided animal skins to clothe the fallen couple (3:21). This provided for their physical nakedness, but obviously it went far beyond that. Just as man’s nakedness goes beyond the physical and points to the exposure of the soul resulting from sin (3:7), so God’s provision of clothing went beyond the physical need for garments. It is a beautiful illustration of what God would do through the Lord Jesus Christ to provide salvation for all who stand shamefully exposed before Him in their sin. God’s provision of the animal skins shows us four things:

First, we need a covering for our sin. The thought of standing with my sin exposed in the light of God’s holy presence is more intolerable than the thought of showing up for a job interview at the White House stark naked. I need some sort of covering.

Second, our attempts at covering ourselves are inadequate. Adam and Eve made fig leaves, but that wouldn’t do. Modern man tries the fig leaves of good works to cover his sin and to make himself presentable to God, but God cannot accept that.

Third, only God can provide the covering we need for our sin. He takes the initiative in properly covering our sin and guilt. Adam and Eve were passive; God did it all. We cannot receive God’s salvation as long as we offer Him our fig leaves. We must let Him provide everything, as He has in fact done in Christ.

Fourth, the covering God provided required the death of an innocent substitute. An animal had to be slaughtered to provide this covering for Adam and Eve. If, as we can probably assume, Adam and Eve witnessed this slaughter, it must have shocked them. This was the first time they had witnessed death. As they saw the animals (lambs?) having their throats slit and writhing in the throes of death, they must have gained a new awareness both of the seriousness of their sin and of the greatness of God’s grace in not requiring their own immediate death for their sin. They learned that without the shedding of blood, there is no adequate covering for sin, but that God would accept the death of an acceptable substitute. In light of subsequent revelation, we know that that substitute is Jesus Christ, to whom these animals pointed as a type.

So Genesis shows God as the Almighty Creator who yet can be known personally. It shows Him as the Holy Judge of all sin, yet the Savior who Himself provided the payment of the penalty for our sin.

Genesis also shows God as the Sovereign Covenant God, who works all human history according to His purposes. He calls Abraham, a pagan man, and promises to bless him by making him into a mighty nation and by blessing all the families of the earth in him (12:1-3). In spite of the foul-ups of Abraham in taking Hagar and fathering Ishmael; of Isaac in favoring Esau; of Jacob in scheming to secure the birthright; and, of Jacob’s sons in selling their brother into slavery; God’s purpose for His people moves forward. As Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (50:20).

We see God’s sovereign grace in choosing men. He chose Abraham over his older brother Nahor, Isaac over the older Ishmael, Jacob the schemer over his older twin Esau, and the younger Ephraim over Manasseh. But Messiah would not come through Joseph’s descendants at all, but through the tribe of Judah, again demonstrating that it is God’s grace, not human merit, that matters. In all this we learn that our salvation depends upon our sovereign, gracious God, not upon our merit and good works.

If I had time, I could develop much more fully this theme of who God is as revealed in Genesis. We could study the names of God as revealed throughout the book: Elohim; Yahweh; the angel of the Lord; El Roi, the God who sees; El Shaddai, God Almighty; El Elyon, God Most High; the fear of Isaac; the God of Jacob; etc.

But before I move on, let me apply this by saying that we need to submit personally to God as He has revealed Himself rather than create a God of our own liking. The God who reveals Himself in the book of Genesis isn’t necessarily to our liking. Modern science tells us that everything has evolved through random chance. Genesis says that God created the heavens and the earth. Either you create your own god out of science, which is ultimately to make fallible man your god; or, you submit to God the Almighty Creator revealed in Genesis.

Genesis reveals God as a holy God who judges sin. That’s not popular in our day. We’d rather have a nice god who is tolerant of sin. But either you create a false god of your own liking, or you submit to the God revealed in Genesis. The God of Genesis is one who provides salvation from His judgment apart from man’s efforts. You may not like that, since human nature wants to earn salvation. But you must either submit to the God of Genesis or create your own false god.

Genesis reveals a sovereign God who works all things after the counsel of His will, who chooses His servants according to grace, not human merit. Again, you may not like that, since human nature likes to think in terms of man’s freedom to determine his own destiny. But you must either submit to the sovereign God of Genesis or make a god who fits your fancy, who is not God at all. Genesis tells us who God is, which confronts us with our need to submit to Him.

2. Genesis tells us who we are.

The British skeptic, George Bernard Shaw, in response to the German concentration camps, reluctantly concluded, “There is only one empirically verifiable doctrine of theology--original sin.” While that doctrine looms large in Genesis, it is not the first picture of man. The first statement about man is God saying, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). While the image of God in man was marred by the fall, it was not obliterated. We know this because after the flood, God establishes the death penalty for murder, basing it on the fact that man was created in God’s image, a truth that still applied (Gen. 9:6).

That great truth lies behind the proper Christian view that every human being should be treated with respect. It lies behind Christian opposition to the slaughter of unwanted children through abortion and infanticide. It is the basis for respect and care for the elderly and dying. It is the motivation behind Christian hospitals and health care. It lies behind Christian charity toward the poor and underprivileged. It lies behind a proper Christian respect of men for women and of women for men, since Genesis 1:27 distinctly states that God created man in His image as male and female. It hints at what the second chapter confirms, the basis for Christian marriage and family relationships. It forms the basis for the proper understanding of one’s self, showing that we each have a unique role in God’s purpose.

But Genesis also shows us as fallen in sin, alienated from God. The devastating effects of sin are displayed in full view throughout the book. The beauty of the first couple, innocent in the garden, is destroyed as they are expelled because of their sin. Their oldest son, the first man born into the first family on the earth, jealously murders his younger brother. In Noah’s time, the sinful condition of the human race is summed up: “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).

So our view of self has to be molded not only by the encouraging truth that we have been created in God’s image, but also by the sober reality that our hearts are inclined against God and toward sin. While it may not be a pleasant thing to look into the mirror that Genesis holds before us, it bears witness with reality. You read the book of Genesis and come away saying, “Yes, that is what human nature is like. Even more, that is what Im like!” It’s an accurate picture of the human condition. But Genesis doesn’t leave us there. That would be hopeless.

3. Genesis tells us what we must do.

Genesis shows us, as we’ve already seen, that God offers us redemption and how we must respond. I could illustrate this from the great passage in Genesis 15:6, where Moses writes that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. The apostle Paul uses that text to demonstrate that salvation is by grace through faith apart from human works (Galatians 3; Romans 4). But instead, I’d like to illustrate it from the first instance of faith, when Adam believed God’s promise of redemption.

After God pronounced the curse for man’s sin (3:14-19), there is a verse that at first seems to be out of context. Genesis 3:20 reads, “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” Then the text goes on to tell of God’s provision of animal skins and of His expelling the couple from the garden. But after the grim words of verse 19, which inflict toil and death upon the human race, you would not expect verse 20. At best, you would think that it would read, “Now Adam called his wife ‘the Grim Reaper,’ because she was the mother of all the dying.” It was ultimately because of her sin that death came to the human race. Yet Adam calls her “Eve,” which means life-giver or mother. And, remember, this was before she had any children.

What does Genesis 3:20 mean? It is Adam’s response of faith to God’s promise to send a Savior through the seed of the woman (3:15). Adam heard and submitted to God’s penalty of death (3:19), but he also grabbed on to God’s promise that there would come forth from the woman a descendent who would bruise the serpent’s head. And so by faith, before his wife had conceived, Adam named her Eve, the mother of all living.

Salvation is now and always has been by faith in God’s promise. Before Jesus Christ came into the world, a person’s faith had to look forward to the promised Savior. Since Christ, faith looks back to the Savior who has come. Salvation has never been based on keeping the commandments or on a person’s good works balancing out his sins. We are made right with God by trusting what He has said concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, the only Savior, who took our penalty on Himself on the cross.

Saving faith always results in obedience. Noah didn’t just say, “I believe You, God, that You’re going to send a flood to destroy the earth.” His faith resulted in 100 years of hard work and ridicule as he built the ark and got on board when God told him to. Saving faith always affects our behavior in this evil world. If we believe God concerning His promise of salvation from judgment through Christ, we will turn from our sin and seek to live in accordance with God’s purposes.

That means that we will commit ourselves and all the resources God has graciously entrusted to us to His great purpose of blessing all the families on earth through the seed of Abraham, who is Jesus Christ. If we really believe what Genesis teaches about God’s judgment on sin and about His provision in Christ, we cannot be complacent as billions go into eternity without Christ. Rather, we will do all we can to be channels of God’s blessing to those who are lost and perishing.

Conclusion

An old man, walking along the beach at dawn, noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked what he was doing. The young man answered that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun.

“But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish,” countered the old man. “How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.

Paul tells us that the Lord is “abounding in riches for all who will call upon Him; for ‘whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:12-15). God wants those beautiful feet to be your feet!

Genesis tells us who God is, who we are, and what we must do. God has graciously redeemed us from the curse of sin so that we may be His channel for blessing all people. Let’s obey the message of Genesis!

Discussion Questions

  1. Which is emphasized more in our day: God as loving Redeemer or God as righteous judge? How can we restore the biblical balance?
  2. Which view of man is most emphasized today: Man as created in God’s image or man as fallen hopelessly in sin? How do we find the biblical balance?
  3. Some emphasize God’s sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility. Others focus on “free will” to the detriment of God’s sovereignty. Where is the biblical balance?
  4. Why is proper theology about God and man the necessary basis for world missions?

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

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

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Soteriology (Salvation)

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