God’s Plan Wins

Jealousy, betrayal, accusation, imprisonment, restoration, reunion – all part of one of the most amazing and dramatic stories in all of Scripture, the story of Joseph! In fact, Joseph plays such a prominent role in the Bible that it takes nearly 13 chapters to span his life. But what does the story of Joseph mean for us? How can we apply his lessons to our lives today? Our Stepping Stones class has spent a number of weeks and thought-provoking discussions on Joseph’s life, and I would like to share three of our key takeaways.

First, God never left Joseph’s side. Over the highs and lows, God was with Joseph through it all. When Joseph was steward of Potiphar’s house, we read that, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did” (Genesis 39:2, NLT). And then when Joseph is thrown into prison because of the treachery of Potiphar’s wife, we again read: “But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.” (Genesis 39:21, NLT). God used Joseph’s darkest trial as an opportunity to demonstrate His unfailing, everlasting love!We need to remember this lesson for our own lives. No matter what we might be going through, God is always with us – no matter how difficult our situation might seem to be. God wants to use these trying times in our lives as opportunities to reveal His faithful love. The question for us is: will we give Him the chance?

Second, Joseph’s story provides a radical example of forgiveness. In many ways, Joseph’s life parallels the life of Jesus Christ. When Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers, he is in a position of absolute power over them. Just one snap of his fingers, and they would all get what they had coming to them – and they would deserve every bit of it too! But, instead, Joseph chooses forgiveness. Christ was also betrayed by His family. We are all guilty of betraying the Son of God! But, guess what, God has good news for us: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10, NIV)

But the most important takeaway from Joseph’s story is also the most significant lesson from the entire book of Genesis: God’s plan wins! As Joseph stands before his brothers, he makes an incredibly profound statement: “Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it.” (Genesis 50:20, GWT).

Friends, we’ve just spent the last six months journeying through Genesis. We watched in Eden as God put into place His perfect plan for us. And then we watched as mankind shattered that perfect plan. But God still had a plan, and He called men of faith like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to play a part in it. Yet we watched as these same men managed to royally screw up the plan over and over and over again! But, guess what, God’s plan still wins! Guys, we serve an incredibly awesome and powerful God – a God who is able to take the worst of our failings and make something beautiful come out of the ashes. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT).

Friends, we’ve seen our God’s magnificent power and matchless love on every page of Genesis. I pray that each of you will take some time this week to read through a little of Genesis on your own and fellowship with this amazing Creator.

Keep an eye out for our next study series! God bless!

Wrestling

Jacob has spent his whole life striving – striving to get his birthright, striving to outsmart his family, striving to make things happen for himself. But now Jacob has come to the end of his rope. His brother Esau is on his way to kill Jacob’s entire family. Jacob can’t connive his way out of this one. He’s got his back to the wall and there’s no way out. In his last act of desperation, he sends his family across the river to await their fate… “But Jacob stayed behind, left alone in his distress and doubt. In the twilight of his anguish, an unknown man wrestled with him until daybreak” (Gen. 32:24, The Voice).

I don’t think it took Jacob very long to figure out that his assailant was no ordinary “man.” In fact, I believe that the physical wrestling we read of is only a small shadow of the internal psychological struggle and emotional strife within Jacob’s soul. Jacob is wrestling with no one other than God Himself. But, the question is: why is Jacob wrestling? Notice that Scripture says that the Man came and wrestled Jacob. It’s not the other way around – Jacob didn’t go wrestle the Man. You see, Jacob has spent his life trying to get things – a birthright, his wife, flocks, wealth… He includes God along the way so long as God is a part of getting him to his end goals. But now, God wants something from Jacob. He demands nothing less than Jacob’s defeated and surrendered heart.

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For hours the battle has raged on. With blood, sweat, and tears, Jacob has grappled with God in heart-rending torment and soul-wrenching anguish. Jacob has held out so far. As the morning began to dawn, Jacob must have thought that he was just about to get the best of his opponent… and then BAM! The Man simply touches Jacob’s hip, and the battle is over. With one fell swoop, Jacob is decisively defeated. Thoroughly conquered, Jacob now knows that the only thing he can do is cling on to his Victor in the hope of a promise. Jacob realizes that he has absolutely nothing to offer, nothing to bargain with. Sobbing like a baby, Jacob is reduced to the point of begging for God’s blessing – on no other basis than the mercy and goodness of his Conqueror. “Jacob was reduced to the place where all he could do was to hold on to the Lord with everything he had. Jacob could not fight anymore, but he could hold on. That is not a bad place to be” (David Guzik, Commentary on Genesis).

But before the blessing can be granted, there is one more thing that Jacob must do. “Through stabbing pain Jacob demands a blessing from his unknown assailant, but he cannot receive it until he confesses his name” (The Voice, commentary). Yes, God, that’s right! I’m Jacob – a heel-catcher, a swindler, a deceiver! That’s exactly who I am completely helpless to do anything about it! And that’s exactly what God was waiting for. Now God is able to bless Jacob with the blessing of a new name, a new identity! You see, Jacob thought this whole time that the enemy was his brother Esau. But, God needed to recalibrate Jacob’s paradigm. He needed to tear all of Jacob’s defenses down, one by one, and expose the real enemy – the enemy within Jacob himself. Once Jacob has finally reached the point of absolute defeat, God then unveils a new identity for Jacob: Israel. “He who prevails with God.” I find David Guzik’s thoughts incredibly insightful here: “Jacob prevailed in the sense that he endured through his struggle until God thoroughly conquered him. When you battle with God, you only win by losing and by not giving up until you know you have lost. This is how Jacob prevailed.”

You know, Jacob probably limped for the rest of his life. With each pained step, Jacob would be reminded that he had experienced a face-to-face encounter with God. It was a battle he would never forget. And I bet Jacob thought of that limp as a small price to pay for God’s victory in his life.

Where are you battling with God in your life? Where are you struggling with internal battles of anger, confusion, or grief? The answer isn’t to stop fighting. It’s to keep holding on! Hold on all the way through. Don’t give up until God achieves a complete, unmitigated victory! And when you have finally been conquered, it is then that you will also receive the blessing of victory.

The Birthright Blessing

Jacob, Esau, and the blessing… Most of us are familiar with the account of the two brothers and the saga of the elusive birthright blessing. Now, the birthright in the early Middle-Eastern culture was a very interesting thing. You see, the blessing of the birthright involved much more than simply extra land and possessions. The birthright also meant that you inherited the responsibilities of spiritual leadership for the family. It meant you were to become the priest of the family. That’s why Esau “despised” his birthright. He probably didn’t mind the idea of extra land and possessions, but he wanted nothing to do with the spiritual responsibilities for the family clan. Of course, we all remember how things went down in Genesis 25. Esau agreed to sell his birthright to Jacob for a mere bowl of lentils!

The mother Rebekah, of course, remembered this whole time how God had told her in Genesis 25:23 that Jacob, the younger son, was to receive the birthright blessing instead of Esau. She, Jacob, and, apparently, God were all on the same page. There was just one problem: Isaac wasn’t quite on board with the plan. Isaac still intended to give the birthright blessing to Esau, who had apparently forgotten about his arrangement with Jacob. And so, just like Abraham and Sarah, Rebekah and Jacob had a choice to make: let God work things out or try to make things work themselves. Sadly, she and Jacob chose to use bribery and deception to “make God’s plan happen.” Genesis 28 chronicles the elaborate birthright heist and Jacob’s subsequent flight for his life! Their plan did not work out quite as expected.

But even in the midst of this sad account of lies and deceit in Genesis 28, I think there is some fascinating spiritual symbolism at work here. Just think for a moment on this story’s spiritual implications for us today: Jacob receives the blessing of the father because he puts on the clothing and assumes the nature of his elder brother. You see, like Jacob, we don’t deserve our Father’s blessing either. But when we allow ourselves to be clothed with the garments of righteousness of our “Elder Brother” – when we allow ourselves to be covered by His forgiveness, when we allow ourselves to be filled with His Being – then, we find ourselves fully accepted into heaven’s family!

Of course, in Jacob’s case, his father was blind. Isaac unknowingly bestowed the blessing on the undeserving heir. But, in our case, our Heavenly Father absolutely knows everything we are and everything we have done! God is not fooled. He can look at us and see every ounce of filth in our lives and every taint of impurity in our hearts. But God doesn’t look at us that way. He, instead, simply chooses to look on us and see the goodness of His beloved Son Jesus Christ! “He has not seen iniquity in Jacob. Neither has he seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21, WEB). “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons [to receive the birthright blessing!] through Jesus Christ [through Jesus’ provision for us, because of His garments of righteousness over us], in accordance with his pleasure and will [because he wanted to and because it gave Him great pleasure to do so for us!]” (Ephesians 1:4-5, NIV).

Of Wells and Promises

As our journey with Abraham closes, we embark next on Genesis 26 with Isaac. Genesis 26 is a really interesting chapter that basically consists of Isaac retracing his father’s steps. There is again famine in the Promise Land. Isaac moves and settles in the land of the Philistines – just like Abraham. When the Philistines take notice of the beautiful Rebekah, Isaac resorts to deception to save his own skin – just like Abraham! (Parents, take note! Your children will follow the example that you set for them.)

But we also watch as Isaac follows in his father’s steps of faith. You may have noticed that Genesis 26 has a lot of wells in it. I find these wells particularly fascinating. Verse 18 reads, “Isaac reopened the wells his father had dug, which the Philistines had filled in after Abraham’s death. Isaac also restored the names Abraham had given them” (NLT). As I think about wells from a modern-day, life-application perspective, I think of digging down into the origins of our faith – of tapping into the legacy our early Christian parents and pioneers have left us. Wells also symbolize drilling down and setting our roots deep into our own personal relationship and communion with God. Of course, the enemy tries to stop up these wells, doesn’t he? But we are to keep building new wells and digging deeper and deeper until our soul’s thirst is at last satisfied by “living” water.

As we all know, Isaac made some mistakes in his life. I get annoyed, for instance, that this whole “lying that your wife is your sister” business keeps popping up – not just twice but three times in Genesis! What in the world is their problem? Why doesn’t God handle things a little more sternly? But I really like what Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh has to say when he points out that the deception is really just a “symptomatic sin and not the root sin” (Bible.org). Deception, in these cases, is merely a side-effect of a root problem of fear. “This fear was the product of an inadequate concept of God.” And that’s what I love so much about Genesis 26:24. After Isaac has finally returned to the heart of the Promise Land following a really, really long detour, God appears to Isaac that very same night and confirms a simple but amazing promise: “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you.” You see, God doesn’t punish and condemn Isaac for his mistake. Instead, He responds by re-introducing Himself to Isaac! God introduces Himself as a Protector and a Promise-Keeper who desires a personal relationship with Isaac.

“So Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well” (vs. 25). Isaac responds with worship, by calling on the name of the Lord. Up to this point, I think Isaac has known God as the God of his father Abraham, but now Jehovah is his God – the God of Isaac! And then, guess what. Isaac digs another well. This well will be named Beersheeba – that is, “Well of Oath” or “Well of Promise,” forever reminding Isaac and us of a God who is an eternal Covenant-Keeper.

 

Genesis 24: Marriage

Before Abraham died, one purpose lay heavy on his heart: A bride had to be found for Isaac. And so, Abraham called his most trusted servant and committed to him the task of finding a bride from Abraham’s Mesopotamian homeland. Upon reaching his journey’s destination, this faithful servant (who we believe was Eliezer) proposes a sign which would place God in charge of the selection process. He asks that the chosen young woman would be the one who was not only willing to offer him a drink but who would also volunteer to perform the hefty chore of watering all of the caravan’s camels! Eliezer was not looking for outward appearances; he was looking for a woman of character and inner strength. Amazingly enough, before Eliezer even finishes his prayer, the beautiful Rebekah shows up on the scene. She didn’t yet realize it, but God had chosen her to fulfill one of the most important roles in sacred history.

Skipping forward a bit, Eliezer meets Rebekah’s family and tells them of his mission. They agree to let Rebekah go with him and put the final choice to Rebekah to refuse or accept. Rebekah’s words are ones of tremendous faith: “I will go.” She was willing to leave everything known behind to embark on a new life! Clearly Rebekah had faith that the God she worshipped was leading the way. Genesis 24 happily ends like a romantic love story: “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her.”

Actually, Rebekah and Isaac’s story provides a profound reminder of Christ’s marriage covenant to us. You see, in the ancient Hebrew culture, here’s how a marriage took place: When it was time for a young man to marry, the father would commit his most trusted servant with the task of searching out a bride. In our story, it seems that Eliezer was sent. Fascinatingly enough, the name Eliezer means “God of help” or “Helper,” reflecting the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives! (See John 14:16.)

Once a potential bride was identified – and, assuming she was willing to go through with the engagement – the son would go to the bride’s family and a special betrothal ceremony would take place. In this ceremony, the bridegroom would present a special marriage contract called a Ketubah. In the Ketubah, the bridegroom listed all of his promises to care for and love the bride. The marriage covenant was then sealed with a cup of wine and the bridegroom left for his father’s house to build the wedding chamber. In the long months of preparation, the bride and the bridegroom would not see each other. The bridegroom’s best man acted as the liaison between the bride and the groom, often delivering gifts from the bridegroom. The bride would also cherish her Ketubah, reading over the groom’s promises to her. When the marriage chamber was finally complete, the groom would come and surprise the bride (often around midnight) with a loud and joyful wedding procession!

Christ has committed Himself to be our bridegroom. He sealed His marriage promise to us with the cup of the New Covenant. And He promises that He will come back for us: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3, ESV). As we wait for His return, we have a link to our Bridegroom through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We also have our Ketubah to cherish – His Holy Word, filled to the brim with His extravagant promises to us!

You see, the beautiful story of Rebekah and Isaac reminds us of what God’s marriage covenant to us is really all about. It’s not a two-way contract where both parties have equal responsibilities to fulfill. The bride’s role was simply to accept the groom’s covenantal pledge to her and then to faithfully wait for his return! And that’s our part too.

May God bless!

Sacrifice

The promise had finally been fulfilled. God came through on His covenant! With Genesis 21, Abraham and Sarah joyfully welcomed their son into the world. Their son was named Isaac – laughter. Abraham and Sarah had once laughed in disbelief at God’s promise. Now, God required that they name their son Laughter, almost as if to flip the whole thing around and say, “Joke’s on you!” Their laughter of disbelief had been turned into laughter of joy.

But Abraham isn’t laughing for joy when we get to Genesis 22. In verse 2, we find perhaps the most terrifying words in all of scripture: “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you” (NLT). We often look at this story and we think, “What a test of faith!” But is that all that’s going on here? Certainly, God wanted to see Abraham demonstrate his complete trust, but I think God was also reaching for something much, much deeper as well. We must remember that Abraham had come out of a culture of idolatry in which child sacrifice was not uncommon. When God called for Isaac’s sacrifice, we can image that Abraham would have believed that his God Yahweh, much like the gods of the surrounding nations, was calling in the family’s debt of ransom. “Perhaps Yahweh isn’t that much different than all the other gods after all,” Abraham might have thought.

But I absolutely love the point that author and speaker Ty Gibson brings out in his book A God Named Desire. Ty pinpoints the radical paradigm shift that God wanted to take his faithful friend through:

God was on a mission to destroy the false image of Himself so prevalent in Abraham’s day (and in our own day as well, though in the more subtle form of merit-based approaches to salvation) in order to replace it with the true knowledge of His character. This Yahweh God, who had newly introduced Himself to Abraham as distinct from the gods of his upbringing in the Babylonian worship cult, was on a quest to extract from Abraham’s thinking… every vestige of the salvation by works theology with which he had been educated. (p. 111)

Therefore, God would use Abraham to play out the most dramatic object lesson in all of biblical history:

Master psychologist that He is, God required of Abraham what the guilty and deceived human hearts inclines us all to believe God might ultimately require of us. Then, at Abraham’s most committed point, God intervened. He shattered the ugly image and constructed within Abraham’s heart an entirely new image – of a God who would Himself suffer and die for human redemption. (p. 113)

Lifting his eyes in a daze, Abraham finally saw the answer to God’s test. A ram stood caught in the nearby thicket – a divine sacrificial substitution! Through his experience, Abraham learned that God, rather than being a demanding deity who required sacrifice from us, was, instead, a God of unfathomable love who would provide Himself as the sacrifice. “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means ‘the Lord will provide’). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’” (v. 14). And on the mountain of the LORD, it was provided – fully, completely, forever. We learn in Scripture that Mount Moriah turned out to be future site of the temple. Over 2000 years later, just outside those temple walls – in what, I believe, was that exact same spot as Abraham’s sacrifice – Jesus Christ would hang from a cross and scream with His dying breath, “It is finished!” Paid in full! The sacrifice was provided!

Genesis 17: Identity

Some twenty-five years have now passed since God first promised Abram a son. In chapter 16, we saw how Abram and Sarai decided God needed a little help to make this promise happen, so they took things into their own hands. We all know the rest of the story… And so, with this context in mind, we come to Genesis 17: “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect‘” (vs. 1, KJV). Whoa! God is laying some pretty hefty demands on Abram, don’t you think? What are we to make of this seemingly-impossible command? First of all, let’s notice that God first says something about Himself before saying anything about Abram: “I am Almighty God.” This is our first encounter of the Hebrew name El Shaddai. This is a truly fascinating linguistic term and there are a couple of different things that could be going on here. El Shaddai could mean “God Who Is All-Sufficient” or “The Breasted One,” portraying the picture of the tender, nurturing love of a nursing mother. Either way, both ideas are actually inseparably linked. The God who is all-sufficient for us, after all, must also be the God who tenderly nurtures our growth with unfailing love.

So we see that before asking Abram to do anything, God first introduces Himself by making a statement about His identity and character. After all, we can only truly follow God’s commands when we really understand who God is! We then get to the command “be thou perfect.” Sounds pretty intimidating, doesn’t it? Can any of us ever claim to live totally “perfect” lives? But fascinatingly enough, the Hebrew word here for perfect, tamiym, literally means to be “whole” or “complete.” We actually find the same idea in the New Testament. The Greek word teleios is often translated “perfect,” as in the case of Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” However, the term can equally mean “mature” or “brought to its end goal or purpose.” To be teleios, therefore, is for us to reach forward and continue on the trajectory towards our ultimate goal and end purpose, even though we aren’t there yet! In other words, to embrace the identity that God has destined for us! As Ephesians 4:13 puts it, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God [understanding His true character and knowing who He really is], to a perfect [teleios] man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Now, back to Abram… Do you see what’s going on in the big picture here? God isn’t telling Abram, “Be absolutely sinless or else!” Rather, God is saying: “I am the God Who Is All-Sufficient, the One who sustains, nurtures, and makes complete; therefore, walk before me and be complete – embrace the fullness of your identity in Me. Become who I made you to be!” And what does God do next? He gives Abram the new name of Abraham. God gives Abram a brand new identity! Abram’s old name “noble father” had smacked of painful irony for nearly the entire century of Abram’s life. With his new name of “father of many multitudes,” Abraham could know that God was about to make something new and wonderful happen!

In verses 9-14, God then tells Abraham to do something that may seem very strange. God instates the sign of circumcision. Why would God put in place such a radical and painful symbol of commitment to Him? Let’s think back for a moment on what has just transpired in Genesis 16. Abram and Sarai have just made a big mistake by taking things into their own hands. Abram believed that he could make God’s promises happen by the power of his own flesh, by his own reproductive capabilities. But God wanted to radically recalibrate Abram’s perspective. So God establishes circumcision as the “sign of the covenant.” Circumcision represents a cutting away of the works of the flesh which we put our confidence and trust in. Symbolically, it is cutting off that which gives a man potency. The sign of circumcision represented ripping away human strength and ability, leaving us 100%, completely, totally, absolutely dependent on God alone!

Can we now see how Genesis 17 all fits together for our lives today? God approaches us with a beautiful promise of a brand-new identity in Him, a new way to understand ourselves and live life in relationship our Father! But this idea of new identity cannot be fully embraced until we realize and accept our complete dependence on Him. We must fully commit ourselves to El Shaddai – the One who sustains, the One who nurtures, the One who completes.