Sunday, January 10, 2016

"A picture of forgiveness and grace …"

January 11th

Scripture Reading:  Genesis 40 - 43 ...

Guilt and regret are hard things to carry, but Joseph's brothers (at least some of them) had carried guilt and regret for years, ever since they sold their brother and told their father he had been killed by a wild animal.  They were about to be set free, but not without enduring a time of deep self-examination. As we read more about Joseph and his brothers God gives us a beautiful picture of forgiveness and grace ... a picture that points to the forgiveness and grace that we need from HIM!  There is more going on here than first meets the eye.

God had told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign country.  Genesis 15:13:  "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions."  For His purposes, God would later reveal through the events of the exodus a clear picture of a future deliverance that would come through the promised "Seed" of Abraham.  But first, He would use Joseph to teach forgiveness and grace to his brothers, and to all who would read the account of these events throughout the centuries.

Joseph was an incredible young man.  His faith in God in the midst of extreme trials has inspired readers of Genesis for thousands of years.  When sold by his brothers and then made a slave in Egypt, he served his master with honor and integrity.  God blessed his obedience and made him prosper.  When wrongly imprisoned, Joseph served the warden in humility and once again God blessed him with good favor.  When the chief cupbearer was released and forgot to mention the young man who had interpreted his dream, Joseph remained in prison for two more years.  Joseph had to wonder when he would get a break!!  How many times are we faced with the temptation to doubt God during difficult times in our lives?  God's timing is often hard for us to understand, but He orders the events of our lives AND the circumstances of the world around us.

Finally, God gave dreams to Pharaoh, and after Joseph interprets the dreams with the wisdom that God gave him, he is placed in charge of gathering food for all of Egypt for the years when the famine would come.  For seven years Joseph exercises authority in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh.  God blesses him with two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  Then Jacob enters the picture ... God, orchestrating events in two nations to bring about His purposes.  Jacob had mourned the loss of his son for all these years.  Did he remember the promises that had been passed down to him through his father, Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham?  Did he remember that God had promised to make a great nation from their descendants?  Did he wonder how God would accomplish His purpose?  Life seemed to be going on as usual when Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to get food, but things were about to change.  Think how wise God is to arrange the lives of people to fulfill His promises and His purpose.  These things don’t happen by chance.  And then remember that God is the same today as He was then.  He is still working out His purposes in and through the lives of His people.  Are you one of them?

Suddenly, from Joseph's perspective, his past appears in front of him, as his brothers come down to Egypt from Canaan for food.  Joseph could have simply revealed his true identity and told his brothers to go get their father and bring him to Egypt.  But there were lessons to be learned and character to be built.  It makes me think of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-4:  “... we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  The Bible tells us that God disciplines those He loves, so now comes the test.  I love Joseph's testimony to his brothers:  "Do this and you will live, for I fear God" (42:18).  Joseph testifies of his faith in “their” God.  It appears that Joseph is threatening them, but he is about to set them FREE!! 

The reaction of the brothers to Joseph's insistence that they leave one of the brothers there and bring their younger brother (Joseph's full brother) back with them reveals what they had carried in their hearts these many years:

"Surely we are being punished because of our brother.  We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us. ... Now we must give an accounting for his blood" (42:21-22).  

Guilt and regret, brought to light by unexpected circumstances, are heavy weights.  But we serve a gracious God!  Joseph was filled with the Spirit of God and through him God showed grace to Joseph's brothers.  What could have been and should have been a just reward for their previous actions became instead a beautiful picture of grace and forgiveness that would become even more beautiful when Joseph made himself known to his brothers and was later reunited with his father, who would receive Joseph, as it were, back from the dead!

Forgiveness, grace ... and virtually, resurrection!  Joseph was alive, and in another picture that points to Jesus as the Redeemer, Joseph is placed in a position of authority that saves not only his own family, but virtually all the people of the world during the famine.  So many pictures, all pointing to God's grace and forgiveness in Christ!  God’s plan unfolding again in the lives of His people, even as it does today in your life and mine.

Joseph is an example for us, who claim to be disciples of Jesus today, to follow.  How do you handle adversity?  What do you do when faced with injustice?  Do you continue to serve the Lord, trusting Him to turn all things for your good as He has promised?  Or do you complain, become bitter, discouraged and frustrated, perhaps even questioning God?  God is at work, even when you can't see Him.  His plan is unfolding in the world around us, even as it was in the days of Joseph and his brothers.  How is God using YOU for His glory?  Step out in faith, trusting in His grace and forgiveness and being ready and willing to serve Him no matter what the situation, knowing that He has not left you for a moment!!

"Almighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, You alone are God.  As You order the events of our lives and of the world, use us for Your glory as we serve You in our daily lives.  Open my eyes to see Your plan and Your purpose in the small things and in the big things, knowing that in the end, I will be with YOU in glory!!  Until then, I live by faith in YOU!!  In Jesus' name, Amen"


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