Intro… Being strategically or tactically Spiritually smart or wise. Too often I find Christians too willing to believe, to trust, to be naive, to be foolish in a world that worships evil, deception, what I want and what I want NOW and the Great Con! Like lambs led to slaughter, we don’t see the evil coming…the great betrayal…the fall. Like Christian ostriches with our heads buried in the sand, all too often, we refuse to see the obvious. But Jesus warned his disciples to be shrewd as serpents as they were also seeking to be innocent as doves (Matt. 10). Do the right thing…be innocent, but at the same time, DON’T BE STUPID. BE WISE! Why? Because the world is both, NOT INNOCENT AND CRAFTY. Jesus calls us to be different, INNOCENT AND CRAFTY. The common trait is to be wise, crafty, shrewd and smart when dealing with man’s evil, sin and immorality. Assume people…assume your family…assume those you love and know, are SINNERS, WILL FAIL, WILL LET YOU DOWN, WILL LIE, WILL DECEIVE in order to cover up their sin. In fact, they are NORMAL. We all cheat. We all fudge and we all attempt to cover up our sin to those who would hold us accountable. WE ARE SINNERS. WE ARE NOT PERFECT! NO ONE IS! Thus, Jesus’ warning to his disciples to be good, do your best, strive to be righteous, but understand man’s propensity to mess up…understand man’s weakness and be prepared to fight a little fire with fire. Jesus was constantly doing this with his religious opposition. Just watch his deeds and words. He is very shrewd. He tells truths in cryptic parables so that only those who have the interpretive code or key will really know what he is talking about? When asked a trick question in order to entrap himself, he often answered with another question. Christians, STOP BEING FOOLS! STOP BEING NAIVE IDIOTS! Be aware; be wise; be vigilant. And NOT so that you will NOT be taken advantage of. That’s NOT the issue at all. But to wage a smart war against a craft enemy…or to recapture the captured. This is a war, and you might as well accept it. The enemy plays for keeps, and we must be willing, righteously of course, to play for keeps back. Over the next few chapters, you are about to witness one the great examples of being innocent, but wise. Watch, observe, listen, ponder well, because it may be that close friend or brother or sister in Christ, your child, someone you care deeply about…that indeed you may have to be very Spiritually crafty at in confronting their sinful imperfection and waywardness. Lives, families, even friendships are at stake in this Spiritual war of denial and deception.
Recently, we began a new unit or section or person of study…the life of Joseph. Essentially, the story of Joseph, is for the most part, our story. Chosen by God for a special purpose, Joseph must first endure much suffering and injustice before arriving at his God-ordained purpose and calling, and what a purpose it will be.
As we read, I want you to continue pondering, your special identity in Christ, and that just because you may be going through difficult days, your suffering…your waiting is NOT in vain. As God’s child…as God’s children, just as with Joseph and his brothers, you…we…all have a purpose in Christ (Romans 8; Eph. 1; 1 Peter 1).
The Bible’s very first word is the Hebrew word Bərēšīṯ, which means “in [the] beginning.” “Genesis” is actually the Greek word for “beginnings” or “origins,” and thus the origin for both the Latin and English transliteration: Genesis.
So what’s our goal? Just to explore. Like an archaeologist exploring ancient ruins, we are going back to the Scripture’s beginnings to do a little Spiritual digging and poking around to see what was God doing before God’s Son was Spiritually conceived in his mother Mary’s womb? What were the world, people and life like from the very beginning?
Summary of Recent Explorations…
• The Creation: The Creator Creates His Creation and its Caretakers (Adam and Eve). Gen. 1-2.
• The Fall: But a Crafty Adversary Emerges, Infecting the Creator’s Caretakers with a Virulent Strain of Deceptive Evil (non-beneficial actions). Gen. 3-4.
• The Flood: The story of the righteous Servant and a devastating Flood. In order to Save his Creation from a self-destructive and merciless evil, the Creator Must radically purge or cleanse his Creation Gen. 5-7.
• Creation’s New Beginning…Gen. 8-11.
• Creation’s New Caretaker: The Creator Raises up, Chooses and Greatly Blesses a righteous and trusting Caretaker named Abraham. Gen. 12-25.
• The Torch of the Creator’s Trusting Caretaking Now Passes to Succeeding Generations (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph…) Gen. 26ff.
Joseph’s Story…Gen. 37-50.
• Jacob’s older sons grow deeply resentful of their favored youngest brother, Joseph. Gen. 37:1ff.
• Joseph’s jealous older brother tell their grieving father, Jacob, that Joseph has been killed by wild animals, when in actuality they have sold Joseph into slavery. Gen. 37:12ff.
• Despite being wrongly trafficked as a slave and then falsely accused and imprisoned God’s sustaining grace still accompanies Joseph. Gen. 39:1ff.
• Despite rightly interpreting the baker and cup-bearer’s dreams, Joseph’s grace seemingly goes unrewarded. Gen. 40:1ff.
• Finally, Joseph is delivered from his false imprisonment by being remembered by the cup-bearer and correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s two dreams. Gen. 41:1ff.
• Pharaoh now empowers Joseph to be the supreme authority to wisely guide Egypt through these next years of predicted plenty and famine. Gen. 41:38ff.
Pray; read three times (perhaps just twice) and ask questions…
42:1 Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, “Why are you staring at one another?”
So now we are in the midst of the predicted seven years of famine, and naturally, it has affected more than just Egypt. The famine’s deadly grip has reached at least as far as Abraham’s future promised grazing lands.
2 He said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.”
So begin to see how the story comes full circle. Jacob’s sons will go to Egypt in search of grain that was gathered and is being sold by the younger brother whom they sold into slavery many years ago. Israel’s deliverance is dependent upon the plan of God, a plan that included Israel’s favorite son being sold into slavery, falsely accused, imprisoned and forgotten…for a time…until…the king of Egypt, providentially, has a dream…a dream no doubt caused by God…and whose interpretation will not only free the falsely imprisoned Joseph, but elevate him to a status that amounts to being a savior of a famine-tested world…a world that includes his own family and the brothers who sold him into slavery to begin with…
3 Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt.
4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “I am afraid that harm may befall him.”
NOT going to happen again. I will not lose Benjamin as I lost Joseph. Can one even imagine how over-protective Jacob had been of his youngest son since his loss of Joseph?
5 So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.
6 Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.
7 When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, “Where have you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.”
Can anyone imagine that first moment when Joseph spots or recognizes his brothers, minus his own full brother, Benjamin? The pain, the sorrow, the hurt, the betrayal, the vindication? Seeing his brothers for the first time in many years, no doubt served as an incredible emotional trigger to all that had gone on before? It makes one wonder, had Joseph been looking for them? Having heard that the famine had reached Canaan, had Joseph stationed himself to receive the requests for grain by outsiders in order that someday they would appear? Had he thought he would never see his family again? Did he think about them every day? Did he wish to be reunited with them? Or did he wish vengeance? Was Joseph hard by now or was there something left of the innocent, pure, naive gift of God?
8 But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him.
9 Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, “You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.”
Joseph is thinking quickly. He has something up his sleeve for he is NOT ready to reveal himself. Now that takes quick thinking, as well as, much self-discipline. I mean many of us might have considered throwing caution to the wind and immediately revealing ourselves, “BROTHERS, here I am!” But not Joseph. He has another plan. He is holding out for something more. Seeing his father? His younger brother, Benjamin? And he obviously knows that at a drop of a hat he has the authority to rescue his entire family? Does he see God’s plan…in the flash of an eye…does the entire plan…including his dreams of his family years earlier, now come flooding before him…the divine plan…revelation of God? And I was but a pawn? A player? God was using me and my pain to save my family for a much greater deliverance, as we will soon see? Can or do we see our struggles in a similar light? What we perhaps think is nothing, could it not be a strategic link in the much greater and grander plan of God’s deliverance…God’s salvation? Amazing!
10 Then they said to him, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food.
11 We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.”
12 Yet he said to them, “No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!”
Now, Joseph knows this is NOT true, but this must have already taken place or Joseph was wise to other nations’ intentions as they were coming to Egypt to buy grain. Thanks for the grain, and oh, by the way, did you see their fortifications? Their defenses? Here is where they are weakest? Joseph now uses such a scenario to entrap his brothers, as they had entrapped him years earlier. Now who is in control and who is the controlled?
13 But they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.”
They tell the truth to a point, but after all, who knows what has happened to their brother? Have they ever thought about their actions? Any guilt? Have they thought about going in search of him, or would this give up their attempted cover-up to their father? So do they live everyday of their lives with the guilt of their former deeds?
14 Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you, you are spies;
15 by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here!
The dagger and perhaps the reason for Joseph’s justified deception?
16 Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.”
Here is a chance to reveal your innocence. I mean if you think about it, what Joseph is proposing here is almost ludicrous…Bedouin shepherds having enough might to be a threat to the mighty Egypt? Hardly? But the brothers are buying into his accusations, and that’s all that matters. In fact, they have no other choice. Joseph holds all the cards, just as they held them all many years before.
17 So he put them all together in prison for three days.
Three days to think, grieve and ponder…What were they thinking…now we have gotten ourselves into a real predicament? Who will go and who will stay? Are we paying for what we did to our brother? I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall? And was this the same prison that the young Joseph was thrown into and managed for so many years?
• Jacob or Israel sends his sons, minus Benjamin, to Egypt in search of grain.
• When they arrive they are immediately recognized by their brother Joseph whom they wickedly sold into slavery so many years before, but they don’t recognize him
• Joseph immediately takes advantage of their not having recognized him.
He falsely accuses them of being spies.
• They immediately deny the accusations, describing themselves as honest men and NOT spies.
• Joseph presses them further with a proposal…send one brother back to bring their youngest brother back here, and then Joseph will know that they are telling the truth and NOT spies.
• And then he puts them into prison for three days.
Summary: In the midst of feeding the world, sent by their father, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in search of grain, where they are immediately recognized and strategically falsely accused of being spies. Joseph’s goal…to see his younger brother, Benjamin, who was prevented from making the trip by his father.
Bottom line… Due to the famine, unknowingly Joseph’s brothers have been reunited with their younger one who now controls all the grain in Egypt.
Why did God include this event in his record or what would we not know–about God, life, myself, others, etc.–if this story were not in the Bible?
• Life has a way of being greater or stranger than fiction. You can’t make this stuff up, as the saying goes. I have experienced this same phenomena on too many occasions. Is God in charge? His word says so. Is this hard for us to believe? To accept? To wrap our minds around? Every detail or just the big ones? How much is God involved? Or this even a legitimate question to ask? I suppose some of it goes back to the question, could God be in charge of my pain? My current pain, travail and hardship? Is God or heaven involved in the mundane? Does and can God use man’s imperfections to carry out a much more perfect and divine plan? Just how much control is God? According to Matthew, this is what Jesus had to say concerning the subject…
Matt. 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
So according to Jesus, whether we fully understand, like or embrace our existence, we shouldn’t worry or overly-worry about it, even the source of our food, drink or clothing, because if he has a way of universally providing for birds and lilies, can he NOT also find a way to provide for us—who have infinitely more value than birds and lilies? Well, the answer is…of course! Of course he can. As Sovereign of the universe, he can do anything he wants to, whenever he wants to. As Creator he is NOT bound by the laws we are normally bound by and to. He can divinely intervene at any moment for any reason he so chooses. But of course, we know by his nature, he is a God who saves…a God who delivers, so much so, that somehow in the heavens, perhaps with the assistance of angels, he does intervene for man’s good, benefit or salvation. That is what the long story of the Bible tells and leads us to believe. God intervenes for good, even when he must crush evil in the process. So whether we like it or not, or fully understand it or not, and really right from the onset, God blesses mankind with a story of purpose in the midst of man’s inequity…purpose in the midst of suffering…in the midst of injustice, persecution, false accusations and even just plain forgetfulness. How God does all this, I do not fully comprehend. But from the life of Joseph, it is clear that God is still in charge, even when man sins…though NOT causing man’s sin or evil. And he can choose to intervene or weave experiences together, even difficult or heartbreaking experiences. My goal…NOT to get lost in the human short run. See, or better, trust the bigger picture….that God says and is working all things out, including real evil and suffering, for the good or Spiritual benefit of those who love him and called to his purposes (Rom. 8:28). Don’t get bogged down into the now. Remain faithful. Keep trusting. Keep seeing the bigger picture, because in time, NOW or in the heavenly hereafter, God redeems his own…his faithful…his chosen…those who trust and obey.
• Secondly, can deception be legitimate? Apparently so. For a greater, strategic Spiritual purpose. Often times, I have had to resort to some form or D and D, as the spy-craft people call it….denial and deception…in order to pull off a strategic intervention on behalf of a family who tasked with the unenviable assignment of having to confront an out-of-bounds family member…one who has typically abused drugs or alcohol, stolen or been maritally unfaithful, just to name a few. I have even had to do it with my own family members because when people are cheating, they normally seek to cover up their cheating. At this point, to get a meeting…or to confront the offender, some amount of strategic deception is required…because obviously, they are NOT going to put themselves into a situation in which they will be held accountable or be confronted for their obvious crimes. So some form of clandestine intervention must be arranged. The offender doesn’t see it coming, and WHAM! The family has entrapped its out-of-bounds offender. Hopefully, since there are too many people in the room, they cannot deny and deceive their way out of this one and the truth comes out. The offender hypocritically always feels deceived, but they were beaten at their own game. Sin is really sick. But those setting up the intervention, much like Joseph, are Spiritually and strategically using deception for a greater overall Spiritual good. Thus we see Joseph’s mind racing. Now he holds some cards, and he intends to play them. What is wonderful about the next set of chapters, is watching Joseph, like a master, play his cards, for some incredible GOOD or Spiritual benefit. There is a lot to be learned by Joseph’s brilliance. Learn. God has put this story here for a reason, and NOT just one, but many. Joseph is about to teach the Christian world how to fight fire with fire…how to secure a more genuine, heartfelt repentance and remorse, and at the same time, reconcile his very flawed family. And is this NOT what God is calling his Josephs to do today?
Application… Feeling a bit strange. I am not sure why? I have some suspects or clues, but for the moment, I plead the Fifth. But what I do want to do is persevere through my feelings. To relax and trust his grace when things “feel” different or strange. After all, isn’t this what the subject of our story’s life is all about? In fact, he names his second son, Ephraim, which means “fruitful.” Why? Because as he goes on to bear witness to, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:52.) I just love that verse. For the moment, it has captured my attention…the idea of being fruitful despite my affliction. Now I know Joseph is referring to his elevation by Pharaoh to manage the times of plenty and famine, but was NOT Joseph fruitful all along? Despite his hardships and mistreatment, he kept bearing fruit. He is faithful. He used his gifts, perhaps NOT in the manner he would have wished or would have been just and fair, but he was bearing fruit…first with his father’s family, then with Potiphar’s estate and even with prison. He was successful. He kept on doing what he was good at…what he was gifted at. Only now, he will do the same thing he has been doing, just on a grander scale…and a scale that God will use over the next four centuries to turn a family of seventy plus into a nation of millions…a nation that still exists in a very powerful way today. Joseph, probably unwittingly, but nevertheless, faithfully, played his role within God’s greater unfolding drama of the salvation and redemption of his fallen Creation. Bottom line…find a way to be faithful, or bear Spiritual fruit even in the midst of the land of my afflictions…my imprisonment…or even just the feeling of imprisonment or imminent arrest (spoken metaphorically of course), regardless of the source of those feelings… BE FRUITFUL…no matter the circumstances, fair or not, just or not. Be fruitful! Be fruitful!
Biggest Struggle at the moment:
How does what happen here relate to you?
What about your kids?
Biggest Struggles (Imagine these or several–put yourself in their shoes–walk through a day with them at school, at home. What might they encounter?)
Now how does what happen here possibly relate/ (Remember this is only to give you a feel or an introductory hook or a reinforcing took; in there looking, they may come up with something entirely different.)
Remember to have fun, sense the Spirit’s leading and develop a love for these kids.
As always, thanks!
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org).