“So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable. The Lord made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah, and he tested them there.” Exodus 15:25 CSB
Through the Bible: Exodus 13-15
In Exodus 15, the Israelites came to a spring in the desert. They had gone three days without water, so I imagine they all rushed to the spring to drink deeply. Yet when they bent to drink, the water was bitter. So God showed Moses a tree. He threw the tree in the spring, the water became sweet, and the people were saved.
The easiest prescriptions are sometimes the hardest ones to trust. “Throw a log in the water? That’s like saying ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning. Naaaah— there has to be more to it than that!”
Actually, there is more to this healing. A LOT more. God did not say, “This is the tree, your healer.” He said, “I am the Lord, your healer” (v 26). In Hebrew, this is Yahweh Rapha—the God Who Heals.
It wasn’t the tree that healed. And not just any tree would do. It could only have been the tree God showed Moses.
Think of a flu shot. It is not the act of simply sticking a needle in your arm that will protect you from anything. It’s the medicine in the needle. That’s where the efficacy is. The needle is merely the delivery system for the power of the medicine.
When we Christians talk about the power of the cross, we know what we mean. But let’s make sure nonbelievers and new Christians understand that the “wondrous cross” is only the delivery system for our salvation. I love to sing how I will cling to the old rugged cross, as long as people understand what that means. We cling to Jesus. The One on the cross.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians,
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—”
In the desert, there was a spring of cursed water. God showed Moses a tree that could remove the curse and make the water sweet.
We know about a Tree like that, too. A Tree that removed a curse. A Tree that provides us fountains of living water. Not just any tree will do. The only Tree that can redeem the curse is the one on which the prince of glory died.
God, thank You for showing me the tree. Use me to show it to others.
February 1, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL
Congregational Hymn: It is Well With My Soul (Mike)
Welcome, Opening Statement, and Scripture Reading (James)
On behalf of Ed’s family, we welcome you to the celebration of the life of Ed Armstrong. As Mike and I talked around the kitchen table with Jackie and Rick, Buddy, Sandy, and Andrea, we told them our goal with a funeral service is to honor the one who has gone home, comfort his family, and glorify Jesus. And because of how Ed lived his life, I can honestly say that these three things will come easy this afternoon.
Today, we remember Ed, but we also want to take a moment to remember some of the others that have gone before Ed: the love of his life, Irene. Their beloved son, Andy. His mother, two brothers, and a sister. I believe that those who have gone before join with those of us who remain behind to be part of the “great cloud of witnesses” the writer of Hebrews talks about. Together, we are gathered to celebrate the well lived life, and the much-earned life of our dad, our brother, our friend, Ed.
At these times, I know that our joy at someone’s passing looks weird to people without a relationship with Jesus. They can’t understand how we can rejoice at saying goodbye to someone. But friends, if you are watching this and scratching your head in bewilderment, I pray you will see that there is a difference between being glad someone’s gone, and being glad someone’s home.
Beloved, we are glad that Ed is home!
I’d like to read a Scripture that I myself really didn’t understand until Ed helped me understand it. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Growing up, I thought that was kind of mean of God, that he would consider anyone’s death precious. But the last time I saw Ed, last Wednesday, I asked him how he was doing. He looked at us with absolute clarity, and calm, and he said, “I want to go home. I have no regrets, nothing I’ve left undone. I am ready.” And he was.
So I’d like to share that Scripture from a Bible Ed actually gave me. In our Wednesday night Bible study, we had done a lot of studies that looked at the Jewish roots of Christianity. We had just finished a video study that was filmed in Israel and featured a Messianic Jew giving his perspective on the events in the gospels. And Ed was fascinated. The next week, he showed me a Bible he had bought called the Tree of Life Version. The books are placed in the order they were in the Jewish Scriptures. Chronicles is at the end of the old testament. Isaiah comes after 2 Kings, and Psalms comes after Malachi. Many important Hebrew phrases are left untranslated. Lord God is Adonai Elohim. When it talks about Jesus, it says “Yeshua.”
And if you’ve grown up reading and studying the Bible, it will kind of mess you up! I will be honest: I don’t know any other 84 year olds that would be excited if you put a Bible in their hands with all the books in the wrong order, filled with names you thought you knew but now couldn’t even pronounce. Many churches (not ours, or Kenny’s, or Glenn’s!) are known for resisting change of any kind. There are some folks who need to have a prayer meeting before they even change a light bulb. A Bible like Ed’s would send them over the edge.
But not Ed. Ed was endlessly curious, and perpetually interested. And when I saw how fascinated I was by his new Bible, he went out and bought me one just like it. So I’d like to share Psalm 116:15 from Ed’s Messianic Jewish Bible (if I can find it. Psalms ain’t where it’s supposed to be). Following the Scripture reading, brother Glenn Brock, who preached the sermon that caused Ed to give his life to Jesus, will lead us in an opening prayer.
“Precious in the sight of ADONAI is the death of his kedoshim. O ADONAI! Surely I am Your servant.
I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant. You have freed me from my bonds.”
Psalm 116:15-16, Tree of Life Version
O Adonai, thank you for freeing our friend Ed from his bonds.
Prayer: Glenn Brock.
Solo: Because He Lives (Mike)
Eulogy: Rick Armstrong
Many, if not most of us have a shoebox somewhere filled with family photos. We always meant to sort them out, put them in order, label them on the back, and place them neatly in a photo album.
And we never got around to it. But even so, if you put the shoebox in the middle of your kitchen table, you and your brothers and sisters could pull out any snapshot at random, and someone would be able to tell you the story that went along with that picture.
That was exactly how it was when we sat at Ed’s table the other day. The stories and the memories just tumbled out on top of each other.
There was the time when Ed got accepted to flight school and moved the family—himself, Irene, three kids at the time—from Pennsylvania to Alabama in a station wagon; packed to overflowing with all their possessions. Ed was driving, the kids were cutting up in the back seat, Irene in the passenger seat with the map on her lap. I guess Ed was getting tired, because he turned to Irene and said “How many more miles till we get there?”
“I can’t tell,” said Irene.
“Well look at the map!” said Ed, getting aggravated. And Irene, aggravated right back, opened the map, measured the distance with her thumb and forefinger, looked at Ed and said, “THIS MUCH!”
I remember the time when I first came to our church. I had heard that there were a bunch of men that met at McDonald’s every morning to solve the world’s problems. It was Ed, and Tom Dirkse, and Dave Johnson, Roger, Ray, and a few others who had known each other for years. They were basically a bunch of old guys cutting up, giving each other (and me) a hard time.
So one morning, I asked them what they all did for a living before they retired from. And, you might have noticed that Ed had a little bit of a “twitch.” It was never actually been diagnosed as anything, but it got more pronounced over the years, so that by the time I met him, his involuntary twitches were nearly constant.
Ed looked at me and said, “I flew helicopters in the army. I was a flight instructor.” And I said… “Really?” Because I couldn’t tell if he was just messing with me or if he was serious. I think I might even had asked Dave later in the week, “Seriously, what did Ed do for a living?” And Dave confirmed that he did indeed fly helicopters. He was actually such a valuable instructor that the Army decided they needed him here, teaching the next generation of pilots, more than they needed him in Vietnam.
There were the family dinners out that usually rotated between Arby’s, Chappy’s, and Ding How. And everywhere they went, Ed would have how much the meal would cost for all of them, measured down to the penny. So it was no surprise to the family that in Ed’s final days he anticipated that his kids would be having a lot of meals together, and that after he died they found he had left money in his wallet for all of them. Down to the penny.
There was the time Andrea went to Ding How to pick up carry out when Ed started taking a turn for the worst. The staff knew and loved Ed so much that when she tried to pay for the meal they wouldn’t let her. In fact, at one point they gave her a $30 gift card and said, “You tell Pop come back soon!”
I remembered the week last summer, after Ed had decided to discontinue treatment for the cancer. We had told our church family of his decision that Sunday, and gathered around him and prayed for him during the worship service. A couple days later, our financial secretary, who had not been in worship that morning, came into the office and asked, “Is there something going on with Mr Ed?” I told her about his decision, and then asked her what made her ask the question. She said, “Well, he sent in his offering, and it was his tithe for the rest of the year.”
Down to the penny.
I went and visited Ed that week. He met me at the door, and was nearly bouncing up and down as we went back to the living room to visit. And before he even sat down, he said, “I want to show you something.” He opened up a closet door, and there was his military uniform, pressed and clean and still in the plastic bag from the dry cleaner.
“I just got it back,” he said. And it still fits. It’s ready for the funeral, whenever God brings me home.
These are all snapshots from a life well lived. Taken together, they form a picture of a man who loved his family, loved his country, loved his church, loved everyone he met, and loved his Lord. In fact, when I asked the family how they would describe Ed if they had to do it in one word, two of them said simultaneously, “Love.” While at the exact same time, two more of them said, simultaneously, “Joy.”
How interesting that when Paul described the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5, those were the first two items on the list, followed by peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
Are there any of those that don’t describe Ed Armstrong? From the moment he nearly ran down the aisle at Camellia Baptist Church to grab Glenn Brock’s hand and tell him he wanted to give his heart to Jesus, he did. He gave his whole heart to Jesus.
To the last penny.
When Ed surrendered his life to Jesus, it changed everything. Sandy, I think you were the one who said, it wasn’t until that point that mom and dad really started living their marriage. There wasn’t anything in the church that he didn’t say yes to. He was a deacon, a Sunday school director, a drywall hanger, a tile layer, and a faithful, FAITHFUL student of God’s word.
If there was any note of sadness or regret around the kitchen table the other day, it was when Buddy said, “You know, I was away serving in the army for so long that I only really got to experience the man you’re all talking about for maybe 12 years or so.”
Friends, Ed Armstrong ran his race so well. He lived Philippians 4:13—that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength. Many of us know that verse, but hear the words that came before it:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every situation, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
There is no doubt that Ed had learned that secret also. And I wonder how many of us have. When our time comes, will we face death with the courage, dignity, peace, and hope that we all saw in Ed in the past few months?
God, I hope so. And I hope that we are all challenged to serve the kingdom the way he did. Glynwood, we have lost a lot of saints in the past few years. Phones don’t get answered as quickly when we are in staff meeting because Ethel Bixler isn’t her to answer them. Hedges don’t get trimmed so precisely because Terry Bixler isn’t here to trim them. Sets for musicals don’t get built because Buddy Stone and Ray Smith and Tom Robinson aren’t here to build them. Problems don’t get solved as calmly because James Philips isn’t here to give his wisdom.
I wonder where the next Ed Armstrong is. Someone who will literally pour out his life in selfless service to others. Someone who teaches us to listen, even when someone might be hard to understand.Someone who has his uniform pressed and his bags packed so he will be ready whenever God takes him home.
In some of the Apostle’s Paul’s final words, as he was waiting in a Roman prison for his execution at the hands of Nero, he wrote to young Timothy the words that I believe Ed would say to us:
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:6
Friends, Ed has received the crown of righteousness that had been reserved for him from the foundation of the world. And he wouldn’t want me as a pastor to miss this opportunity to ask you: Do you have a crown of righteousness waiting for you? It’s a crown that doesn’t come because of any of your own righteousness. But if there was a time when you ran to Jesus, and trusted him for the forgiveness of your sin, and walked in the newness of life that he provides, then there is a crown waiting for you. And just like the uniform Ed was buried in, it fits you perfectly.
One last snapshot. On the last day I saw Ed (just a week ago), his son Rick followed Mike and me out the door. And Rick said, “You know, my favorite story about my dad is when I graduated basic training at Maclellan. I got a message from my CO to go to the end of the north airfield and wait. So I take a taxi and it drops me off at the end of the north airfield. I have no idea what’s going on. But soon I hear the thump-thump-thump of rotor blades, and I saw a helicopter coming over the treeline. And there was my dad at the controls. Smiling and waving. Pop found me, and flew me home.
What a day of rejoicing was Friday, January 27. Because Ed, on that day, your heavenly father found you, and flew you home.
As we bring this service to a close, we will sing Victory in Jesus. And while we are singing, the pallbearers will help bring Ed back up the aisle, followed by the honorary pallbearers, and then his family. And we’ll keep singing until they’ve had a chance to exit. Then all who are able can follow us to Brookside for the graveside service.
7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:7-13)
We are a month into this adventure of reading through the Bible together, and by now you should be getting used to looking for events that look forward to and anticipate the work of Jesus. We saw it in the story of Noah (Day 003), when God shut Noah’s family inside the ark while the ark itself absorbed the fury of God’s wrath.
We saw it in the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Day 019). God provided a lamb as a substitutionary sacrifice in place of Isaac.
Today’s story is arguably the greatest foreshadowing of Jesus’ death for our sins in the entire Old Testament. In the tenth and final plague, the Lord sends His destroying angel through the streets of Egypt, in order to kill the firstborn son of every household. But God instructs His people to take the blood of a spotless lamb and paint the doorposts of their houses with it. When the destroying angel saw the blood, He would pass over that house, because all those inside the house were under the blood of the lamb. God’s wrath would be turned away from them.
All this happened, just as God said it would. Those who willingly placed themselves under the blood were not only saved from God’s wrath, but were released from slavery. They were no longer captives. And God began from that moment to bring them into the land He had promised them. It would take another forty years, but God would use the wilderness experience to ready His people for their promised rest.
Do you see it? Paul spelled it out for the Corinthian church centuries later, when he said, “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7).
Under His blood, we are saved from God’s wrath. We are set free from bondage to sin. And those whom God saves, He sanctifies. At the point of salvation, God begins the lifelong process of sanctifying us, until the day He brings us into our promised land. It begins with placing yourself under the blood of Christ. Beloved, have you done that?
3 The Nile will swarm with frogs; they will come up and go into your palace, into your bedroom and on your bed, into the houses of your officials and your people, and into your ovens and kneading bowls. 4 The frogs will come up on you, your people, and all your officials.”
5 The Lord then said to Moses, “Tell Aaron: Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, canals, and ponds, and cause the frogs to come up onto the land of Egypt.” 6 When Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 But the magicians did the same thing by their occult practices and brought frogs up onto the land of Egypt. (Exodus 8:3-7)
It’s almost funny. The image of countless frogs hopping amuck (if that’s even a thing); popping out of cabinets and ovens and mixing bowls sounds like a Muppet Show skit.
But put aside the comedy of the scene and consider the tragedy.
In ministry, I’ve seen a lot of people who struggle with addiction, or have someone in their family who does. One of the hardest funerals I ever preached was for the daughter of a woman in our church that had overdosed on Fentanyl-laced opiates. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone whose life has been torn apart by addiction. So allow me to look at this story as a metaphor for addiction.
Addiction begins with what we worship.
Charles Spurgeon noted that the Egyptian pantheon included a deity with the body of a woman and the head of a frog (In the picture at the top of this post, look at the wall behind Pharaoh). Frogs were actually preserved in jars and buried with the Pharaohs. Spurgeon wrote, “As the true God is everywhere present around us, in our bedchambers and in our streets, so will Pharaoh find every place filled with what he chooses to call divine.” (Spurgeon Study Bible, p. 82)
Our culture worships the lifestyle that goes along with alcohol and recreational drug use, and has made freedom from pain the ultimate value. As a result, we have seen so many good, responsible people become addicted to prescription pain killers because they have made pain relief divine. And what we call divine will fill every space in our lives.
Addiction tries to solve the problem with more of the problem.
The height of the absurdity in this story is verse 7, when “Pharaoh’s magicians do the same thing with their secret arts.” In other words, they try to solve the problem of frogs with–wait for it– more frogs. If they had wanted to demonstrate the superiority of their gods, wouldn’t they have gotten rid of the frogs instead?
Addiction acts the same way. It takes more and more of the substance or the behavior to achieve the same level of pain relief, or high, or whatever you are pursuing. It is the law of diminishing returns.
You can’t break the addiction if you don’t deal with what lead to it
In Exodus 8:8, “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Appeal to the Lord to remove the frogs from me and my people.” But the truth is that Pharaoh’s biggest problem wasn’t the frogs. It was his arrogance, his hardness of heart, his cruelty toward God’s people. It was his sin. Pharaoh didn’t ask God to forgive his sin, only to get rid of the frogs.
Beloved, even if you get clean, any plan for recovery has to deal with the problem that led to the addiction in the first place.
Addiction will delay recovery as long as it can.
9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “You may have the honor of choosing. When should I appeal on behalf of you, your officials, and your people, that the frogs be taken away from you and your houses, and remain only in the Nile?”
10 “Tomorrow,” he answered. (Exodus 8:8-10)
Wait… what? If there are frogs crawling all over your bed, why in the world would you want to spend another night with them? Because that’s how addiction works. We convince ourselves that tomorrow will be the day to quit. But what happens tomorrow? You wake up with a hangover, and you decide you will take the edge off of it with just one more drink. A little hair of the dog that bit you. And later, you wonder why you ever wanted to stop this in the first place. Until the next morning. Rinse. Repeat. Spend one more night with the frogs.
You can break the addiction, but you still have to deal with the mess it leaves behind.
The story ends like this:
12 After Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the Lord for help concerning the frogs that he had brought against Pharaoh. 13 The Lord did as Moses had said: the frogs in the houses, courtyards, and fields died. 14 They piled them in countless heaps, and there was a terrible odor in the land. 15 But when Pharaoh saw there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. (Exodus 8:12-15)
Steps 8 and 9 of the AA Big Book are all about cleaning up the frogs. Step 8: Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Until you do something about all the dead frogs, the stench is going to fill the land. It would take eight more plagues before God’s people were set free. Pharaoh lost everything in the process, up to or even including his own life, depending on how you interpret Exodus 15:4-5.
Making amends is about cleaning up the piles of frogs. An addict has to deal with the pain his addiction has caused others.
Beloved, we all have frogs that need to be gone. We all have sins we started off loving, and now they are overrunning our lives. As the song from the Eighties almost says, Might as well face it, we’re addicted to frogs.
Lord, don’t just get rid of the frogs in my life. I repent of the sins that invited in the frogs in the first place. And Lord, once you kill the frogs, give me the courage to clean up the carcasses.
3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. (Exodus 7:3-4)
Through the Bible: Exodus 7-9
This whole issue of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart can be difficult to process. We can picture Pharaoh as the innocent victim of God’s sovereign plan. We imagine him as the helpless puppet who would have let God’s people go long before the tenth plague, if only God didn’t keep hardening His heart.
As Tara-Leigh emphasized in the podcast, God is absolutely sovereign over the hearts of men and women. But that does not mean humans have no agency. And it absolutely does not mean that they are not responsible for the hearts being turned away from God.
Even the text itself doesn’t credit God with the heart hardening every time. Let’s look at it, plague by plague (these are from the English Standard Version):
Before the first plague (Ex. 7:13), “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” It doesn’t say God did it, nor does it say Pharaoh deliberately hardened his own heart. Let’s take this one as, “Pharaoh was already predisposed to not listening to Moses and Aaron.”
The First Plague: Water into Blood: Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened (predisposed against God) after his own magicians duplicated the trick (7:22).
The Second Plague: Frogs: Verse 8:15 says that when Pharaoh saw there was a respite (in other words, no more frogs), hehardened his own heart and would not let the people go. So once the crisis passed, so did the conviction.
Side note: Isn’t it just like Satan to make you think your problem is solved by giving you MORE of the problem? “Oh, so you’re dealing with a plague of frogs? Watch this: I’ll have my magicians give you… more frogs! Ta da!”
The Third Plague: Gnats: Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (8:19)
The Fourth Plague: Flies: Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:32). So, Pharaoh still has some agency at this point.
The Fifth Plague: Livestock: Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (9:7).
The Sixth Plague: Boils: Now we see something for the first time. In 9:12, The Lord hardened his heart. It is the same phrase for the eighth plague (locust; see 10:20) and the ninth plague (darkness; see 10:20). With the exception of the seventh plague of hail (9:35), this is the language for the rest of the plagues. God is doing the hardening.
So theologically, what are we to make of this? I think there’s a point of no return when it comes to sin and repentance. That up to a point, we are still capable of making a decision towards God. And He is patient with us. He wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He is kind to us, knowing that His kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
But only up to a point. If we reject God’s kindness enough times, we will eventually lose the ability to choose Him. I think this is what happens with Pharaoh. Far from being an innocent pawn to God’s sovereignty, his own stubborn, willful, rebellious heart eventually brought him to the point he could no longer choose the right. We see the same thing happen in Romans 1, when God gives the unrighteous over to “the lusts of their hearts” (Romans 1:24); to “dishonorable passions” (1:26); and to a “debased mind” (1:28). God didn’t harden their hearts. He just quit softening them.
So there are two lessons we can get from the plague narrative. The first is that the Lord is incredibly patient. But the second is that not even God’s patience is bottomless. Reject God long enough, and eventually you will be unable to do anything else.
Friends, because of time constraints this week, I was not able to provide the day-by-day summary I’ve been doing in this section. Fortunately, we are still in a section that is very familiar to many of you. Instead, let me direct you to a couple of resources that will give you additional helps and insights into the daily readings. Please give me feedback if this is helpful to you. If this is just as helpful or even more helpful to you than the narrative summary, let me know.
The Bible Recap podcast: Typically around nine minutes, this podcast from Tara-Leigh Cobble also provides a concise summary of the day’s readings, focusing on where you see God’s character in the readings.
Links to Blog Posts for this week’s readings from 66in52.com (this site):
These are short devotional posts that drill down on a specific passage from each day’s reading.
Note to leader, especially if you are using this in Sunday School: Be sensitive to group members who may not have read or are not participating in the reading plan. Make sure you use the summary to help them get their bearings, and use the Scripture references in the parentheses so everyone can look up the passage.
As you went through the reading this week, what stood out to you? Is there anything you noticed that you had not seen before ? What questions did the readings raise?
Note to leader: This will be your first question every week. Allow group to share their highlights, but resist the temptation to comment, answer questions, or open it up for discussion. You want the group to get comfortable sharing their thoughts, without looking to you to be the expert on everything.
The following questions span the whole week’s reading. You probably will not have time to deal with all of them. Highlight the ones that are most interesting to you. As you listen to the group’s highlights, put a star next to any of the questions that address what stood out to someone in the group. Make sure you always ask Questions 9 and 10.
When you look at all the dysfunction in Abraham’s family, what do you think God wants us to learn from these stories?
Some stories in the Bible are prescriptive–they tell us what happened as an example to follow. Others, like Genesis 34, are descriptive–they tell us what happened without the expectation that we do the same thing. How do you discern the difference?
Even after God gave Jacob the new name Israel, he is still primarily referred to as Jacob. Why do you think that is? Allow for responses, but suggest that it may simply be a way to differentiate Israel the man from Israel the nation.
In the story of Jacob wrestling the man (Genesis 34), why does verse 25 say “the man” (God) “could not defeat Jacob”? Doesn’t God always win?
Similarly, in verse 28, God says to Jacob, “you have struggled with God… and have prevailed.” What do you make of this?
Jacob seems to demand a blessing from God in exchange for Jacob letting him go (v. 26). Is it right to “demand” anything from God? How do we make sense of this?
Genesis 34:29 says that God blessed Jacob. But it doesn’t say how. Or does it?
Ask a volunteer to read Genesis 12:3 (“all nations will be blessed by you”). Ask, did you see anything in the story of Joseph that was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham? If no one says it, ask a volunteer to read Genesis 41:52.
As we wrap up, are there any questions you had about anything you read that we haven’t addressed?(Don’t stress if you don’t know the answer. For some questions, there may not be an answer! You can toss the question to the whole group, give your opinion, or promise to research before next week. And always encourage them to post questions in our Facebook group. Pastor James or someone else may have an insight or an answer).
What action steps or changes do you sense the Lord is leading you to do next week as a result of this study?
#5 in 66 in 52, A Yearlong Journey Through Scripture. January 29, 2023. Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Lead Pastor
The Big Idea: Joseph, the last major character to be introduced in Genesis, was part of a family with a long history of dysfunction, deceitfulness, rejection and resentment. Maybe you are, too. How did Joseph break the cycle?
Good morning! Today we are going to have our last sermon in this series from Genesis. You can go ahead and turn to Genesis 37, but know that we are going to be covering all the way to the end of the book this morning. If you are caught up with our Bible reading plan, we finished Genesis today! Good job! Two down, sixty four to go!
If you aren’t caught up, or are going at a different pace, that’s ok. There is nothing magical about finishing the Bible in a year. The point is you are reading it. And when you do finish, you will have done what only 11% of Americans have done. So just keep at it!
It’s been fun to hear all the comments from you guys as we’ve hit this part of the reading plan. I’ve heard people say, “Man… Abraham’s family was a dumpster fire! It’s like the Jerry Springer show on steroids! One of our church members got to chapter 38, the story of Judah sleeping with his daughter in law because he thought she was a prostitute, and it almost made him mad. He came up to me on Wednesday night and said, “What is that story even doing in the Bible?”
That’s a good question. But that’s just one story in four generations of dysfunction, distrust, deceitfulness, and double-dealing. There’s resentment, rejection, and sibling rivalry. And then you remember that God chose this family to be His chosen people. And you’re thinking, couldn’t God have chosen a normal family? These guys are like the Addams family. Only, they’re the Abrahamic Family [snap snap].
Listen: when we wonder why God didn’t choose a normal family to bless and make a great nation, God’s answer is, “Normal family? What is that?” There are no normal families. We’ve all got more problems than a math book.
But in the last quarter of Genesis, we are introduced to a guy named Joseph. And somehow, Joseph is able to break the cycle of dysfunction that has pretty much dominated his family for about two hundred years now.
This morning, we are going to look at how Joseph was able to break the cycle. And hopefully you will realize that if God can bless this crazy family, He can bless yours as well.
Let’s pray, and then we’ll dive in.
There are several points in Joseph’s story where we get some clues as to how he was able to rise above all the rivalry and pettiness that had defined his family up to this point. And the first one is this:
1. He was secure in his father’s love (Genesis 37:3; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5)
Let’s look at Genesis 37:3 together.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.[a]4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because he was born to Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel. Long story, but Jacob had four wives—two of them sisters, both of them his cousins—remember, Jerry Springer—and Joseph was the first of two sons born to Rachel late in life. and this is why he’s the favorite.
And Jacob gives Joseph a special robe. We don’t know if this is actually a coat of many colors—the Hebrew is pretty obscure here. So some translations say that, others say a long robe, or a long sleeved robe, or a richly ornamented robe. It probably wasn’t an amazing technicolor dreamcoat, though. The point is, Joseph got one, and his brothers didn’t. So if they hated him before, they REALLY hated him now.
Now parents, if you don’t remember anything else from this morning, remember this: don’t play favorites with your kids. It will mess them up. Remember that Jacob himself had grown up knowing he wasn’t his own father’s favorite, and now he turns around and does the same thing to all his other sons.
Not long ago, researchers from wanted to see what kind of role fathers played in their children’s success and self regard as adults. They studied over 600 pairs of twins, and they found that affection from their fathers—not discipline, not permissiveness, not generosity, not a work ethic—affection– was most related to their self-esteem as an adult. And if one twin perceived that they received more affection, guess what? They typically had more self-regard, more confidence, and a better outlook on life than their sibling.
Now, if you have more than one child, it’s ok for one of them to think he’s your favorite, as long as all his siblings think they are your favorite too.
Joseph knew he had his father’s favor. He had the robe to prove it.
One of the things I’m trying to do with this series is train you to pay attention to details in the Old Testament that point to Jesus. Remember our definition of “type” from last week—an OT person, thing or event that foreshadows a person, thing or event in the New Testament. So think about this: Joseph in the Old Testament knew he was his father’s beloved son before he was kidnapped by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites, and driven into the desert on the way to Egypt.
In the New Testament, Jesus went down into the water of baptism. He heard the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” And then He was driven into the desert.
And knowing he had his father’s approval would sustain both Joseph and Jesus for every trial that would follow. Dads, the most important thing you can tell your children, other than the gospel itself, is that you love them. That you approve of them. That you delight in them. When your kids know they have your approval, they are able to face whatever the world throws at them.
Notice the very next thing that happened to Jesus. For the next forty days and nights, he was tempted by the devil.
And what is the next thing that happens to Joseph? He faces temptation.
Genesis 38 interrupts Joseph’s story to tell about the twins born to Judah and his daughter in law Tamar—again, the Jerry Springer show (we’ll get back to this), but Joseph’s story picks up again in Genesis 39.
It’s now a few years later, and Joseph is a servant in the house of an Egyptian official named Potiphar. Verse 3 says,
3 His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight (there’s that approval factor again!)
Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of all that he had, and verse 5 says, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.
Verse 6: Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused
Stop right there and consider how epic this is. Joseph refused the offer of sex with someone he wasn’t married to.
His great grandfather Abraham didn’t do that. Back in Genesis 16, Abraham’s wife saw she wasn’t having children and said to him, sleep with my servant Hagar. Maybe God will fulfill his promise to you through her. Abraham said, “ok,” and off they went.
His father Jacob didn’t do that. Joseph had a truckload of half brothers because his mother said, My sister’s having all these babies, and I’m not having any, so sleep with my servant and have babies with her. Jacob said, “ok,” and off they went.
His brother Judah didn’t do that. One chapter before this, Judah’s daughter in law disguised herself as a prostitute, and he slept with her.
In four generations, there’s no record of anyone in Joseph’s family saying no to adultery.
Until Joseph. Joseph broke the cycle of yielding to temptation. Verse 8:
Joseph refused, and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge… he has not kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
2. Joseph withstood temptation because he knew that his master hadn’t withheld anything from him. Listen, temptation almost always comes when we believe God isn’t giving us something we think we deserve. From Eve to Jesus, to us today, Satan’s had the same playbook:
Eve, Did God really say you can’t eat from any tree in the Garden?
Jesus, I can’t believe God has left you in this desert for forty days and forty nights without food! If you are really the son of God, tell these stones to become bread.
Husband, don’t you think God wants you to be happy? And if you aren’t happy in this marriage, then let’s find someone else who will make you happy.
But Joseph knew his earthly father loved him. And he knew his heavenly father was with him. And even after he had been sold as a slave by his own brothers, he was able to say, “My master hasn’t withheld anything from me, except his wife… How could I do this great wickedness and sin against God?
Listen: 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that we are not going to face any temptation that hasn’t already been faced by God’s people from the beginning of time. And God is faithful. He won’t let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. But with every temptation he will provide the way of escape.
And here is the way of escape: Know that your heavenly father loves you. You are his child. He delights in you. He has dressed you in a robe of righteousness that shines like a coat of many colors. He has lifted you up out of the pit and brought you into His household, so can serve a gracious and kind master.
And he is not holding out on you. James 1:16 says, “don’t be deceived. Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the father of lights.
Psalm 84:11—no good thing does He withhold from him whose walk is blameless.
You can withstand any temptation when you remember those two things. God delights in me. God doesn’t hold back from me.
Number 3, Joseph forgave his brothers’ offenses (Genesis 50:16-19)
Now, Time’s not going to allow us to cover everything that happens next, and many of you are already familiar with the rest of the story. Joseph is put in prison. He’s released from prison when Pharaoh has a dream he can’t understand. Joseph interprets the dream and tells Pharaoh there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and that he should prepare by storing up as much grain as he can during the seven years of plenty so it will sustain the people during the seven years of famine. And Pharoah says, “Great, you’re in charge.
The famine isn’t just in Egypt. Genesis 41:57 says, “All the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph.” This is partial fulfillment of what God said to Abraham way back in Genesis 11, that through his offspring all nations of the world would be blessed.
So in Genesis 42, we see that the famine is also in Canaan, where Joseph’s father and all his brothers still live. So Jacob sends all of his sons except for Benjamin to Egypt to buy grain. Verse 6 says that Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before Joseph with their faces to the ground. And Joseph recognized them right away. But it seems like he can’t resist giving his brothers a hard time. He accuses them of being spies. He tells them that the only way to convince him they aren’t lying is to come back with their youngest brother. And he took one of the brothers, Simeon, and kept him in prison until they came back.
And I want you to notice the first thing they say, on their way back to canaan, the brothers stop for the night. And when they open up the sacks of grain they have just bought, they find the silver they bought it with back in their sacks.
And I want you to notice what they say. The first thing that comes to mind when they are trying to figure out why all this is happening to them is what they did to their brother 20 or 30 years ago. They say,
21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.”
Isn’t that amazing—that after decades they are still thinking about what they did to Joseph. I wonder if this is the first time they feel shame or remorse. We don’t know, the text doesn’t say. But I get the feeling that this has been gnawing at them for years now. Otherwise, I don’t think they would have connected the two so quickly. Maybe for the first time, there is genuine confession.
Reuben the oldest brother, takes them one step further. Not just confessing what they did, but taking responsibility for it:
22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”
What they don’t realize is that Joseph, the one they had wronged, is understanding every word. He hears the cry of their heart. He hears the brokenness, the confession, the repentance. He hears them taking responsibility for their actions. And verse 23 says he turned away and wept. In that moment, I think Joseph forgave his brothers. And then he gives orders to replace each man’s money in his sack.
They confessed. They repented. They took responsibility. And he repaid what they owed him.
They come back home and they tell their father everything that had happened to them. A few months later, they have to go back to Egypt. And this time, they take Benjamin with them.
And here’s the best part. When they get back to Egypt, Joseph prepares a table for his brothers. Chapter 43 says he sat before them, and said them down in birth order. He fed them from his own table, it says in verse 43.
Then he sends them away again. Once again, he returns their money to them. He puts his own silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. Then, in one last test, he sends out his soldiers to bring the brothers back to him, accusing them of stealing the cup. He says in 44:17 that whichever brother stole the cup will be punished.
And in chapter 44, verse 33 Judah offers himself as a substitute for his brother.
Two thousand years later, Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, will offer himself as a substitute for all of us. He who committed no sin will die on the cross for your sins.
In chapter 45, Joseph can stand it no longer. He sends everyone else out of the room and he turns to his brothers and says, I am Joseph, your brother.
After repentance, after the brothers confessed their sins and took responsibility for them, Joseph revealed himself to them.
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
Joseph tells them that this was God’s plan. That what they had intended for evil, God made good.
And the story ends with this beautiful picture of reconciliation.
14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.
Beloved, when we confess our sins, when we repent and take responsibility for our actions, Jesus brings us to the table, and he reveals himself to us.
[invitation and Communion]
Communion: Before, During, and After the Table
Repentance (Genesis 42:21)
Responsibility (Genesis 42:22)
Revelation (Genesis 45:3)
Reconciliation (Genesis 45:14-15)
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Who am I? (Ex 3:11) Answer: You are the one I will be with through this entire ordeal (Ex. 3:12).
Who are you? (Ex. 3:13) in response, God revealed His personal name YHWH to Moses. In English it is pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah. In Hebrew it is not pronounced at all. They take the third commandment very seriously.
Beginning with chapter 4, we get the rest of Moses’ argument for why he thought God had picked the wrong guy. Something about the third question hit me in a different way when I read it this time:
What if they won’t listen?
I had always assumed that the “they” in that question was Pharaoh and his officials. But when I looked at it closely, I think “they” is also (if not mostly) about the Israelites. Follow along:
Moses anticipated that Pharaoh wouldn’t believe him, and so God gave him some signs to perform— a slithering staff, a leprous hand, water turned to blood. Pharaoh was unimpressed. His magicians would reproduce two of these (see Exodus 7:8-22).
What Moses maybe didn’t anticipate was that his own people the Israelites wouldn’t listen. They did at first. In 4:31, when Moses and Aaron met with the elders prior to going to Pharaoh, they did a dress rehearsal of the signs God gave them to perform before Pharaoh. Scripture says, 31 The people believed, and when they heard that the Lord had paid attention to them and that he had seen their misery, they knelt low and worshiped.
All was well until they faced opposition. Pharaoh rejected Moses request for a three day journey into the wilderness, and then spitefully took away the straw the Hebrew slaves used to make the daily quota of bricks he required. Then, the Hebrews change their tune faster than a bad karaoke singer:
21 “May the Lord take note of you and judge,” they said to them, “because you have made us reek to Pharaoh and his officials—putting a sword in their hand to kill us!” (5:21)
This reinforces Moses’ self-doubting, and he blames God for ever picking him in the first place:
22 So Moses went back to the Lord and asked, “Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? And why did you ever send me? 23 Ever since I went in to Pharaoh to speak in your name he has caused trouble for this people, and you haven’t rescued your people at all.” (5:22-23)
In the next chapter, God again states His plan for the Israelites. Again the people don’t listen. And again Moses feels like his self-doubt is confirmed:
6 “Therefore tell the Israelites: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians and rescue you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land that I swore[b] to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.” 9 Moses told this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their broken spirit and hard labor.
10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go from his land.”
12 But Moses said in the Lord’s presence, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?”
My heart is so tender to Moses at this point. I’ve doubted my leadership capabilities for as long as I’ve been in ministry, often feeling like I was an actor playing the part of a minister rather than actually being called.
I can preach and teach. That’s my wheelhouse. And I am a decent leader, as long as nothing ever happens.
But in ministry, something always happens. A family feels slighted if I don’t speak to them. A member reads something about a Bible teacher we are using in a video series and stops coming to church because I’m promoting it. A business meeting gets contentious. There is conflict with the staff.
And whenever there is any disruption or opposition, I point to God and say, “See? I told You You picked the wrong guy.”
But every time I do that, I submit to the heresy that all of this depends on me. I make an idol of my own insecurity, and I am continually making sacrifices to it. And when I read passages like Exodus 6:6-12, what jumps out is Moses’ confirmation bias: This is what I believe about myself, and this circumstance confirms it.
But notice there are only two lines where Moses talks about who he is and what he can do. The rest of the passage emphasizes who God is and what God will do:
I am the Lord.
I will bring you out and rescue you.
I will redeem yoiu.
I will take you as my people.
I will be your God.
I will bring you to the land I promised.
I will give it to you as a possession.
Oh, Lord, when I believe you picked the wrong guy, remind me that I am following the right God. When I highlight my doubt, remind me of Your truth.
13 They [the Egyptian taskmasters] worked the Israelites ruthlessly 14 and made their lives bitter with difficult labor in brick and mortar and in all kinds of fieldwork. They ruthlessly imposed all this work on them.(Exodus 1:13-14)
At the church I serve, I’m currently taking a small group through a study of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. It is a six session video series where Dr. Keller sits down with a group of nonbelievers and discusses the questions they have about Christianity. Last night’s session was “If there is a god, why is there so much suffering in the world?” It was a twenty minute video, but we spent nearly an hour talking about it together. It’s not hard to see why this topic hit such a nerve. Just in our group last night was:
My friend who lost his wife to cancer five years ago.
A licensed professional counselor.
A volunteer missionary who has done extensive work in Haiti.
A large number who are working their way through the Bible this year, so we recently spent two weeks on Job. And if you aren’t familiar with Job, “why do good people suffer” is kind of the main point.
All of us are still dealing with the effects of the tornado that tore through our county a few weeks ago, killing seven.
And to top it all off, we had been at the funeral of a young man who grew up in our church just the day before. 34 years old, heart attack. When our worship pastor and I visited the family to plan the service, it was one of the most painful conversations we’ve ever had with a family who has lost a loved one.
So last night, we found we were asking the same questions as the unbelievers in the video, and feeling nearly the same frustration at the oversimplified, pat answers we sometimes hear. Worse, we realized that these canned answers are the very ones we have sometimes given ourselves.
This morning, as I opened my Spurgeon Study Bible to Exodus, I read these words from Spurgeon, who was reflecting on the fact that the Israelites had settled in Egypt, even though their home was in Canaan:
The land of Goshen was fruitful, and the Israelites had been greatly favored by the Egyptian king. The mass of them, therefore, had little thought of ever leaving that country. … [So] the first thing to be done with the Israelites was to cause them to be anxious to come out of Egypt… He must bring them out in such a way that they would be willing to come out, so that they would march forth with joy and delight, being thoroughly weary and sick of all Egypt and therefore rejoicing to get away from it.
Spurgeon Study Bible, p. 72
So is it possible that God uses pain in this world to make us eager for our true home? Is that why growing old usually means growing tired? Is that why we often mutter “Come, Lord Jesus!” whenever the world seems out of control?
Perhaps you’ve heard the quote, “People don’t change until it hurts too much to stay the same.” I’ve heard it applied to making changes in a church, but I’ve also heard it said by people recovering from addiction. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we would never long for a better place if there was no suffering in this one.
I am using the Spurgeon Study Bible for my Bible Read Through in 2023. All of the study notes are quotes from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and writing. For more on Charles Spurgeon, click here. The Spurgeon Study Bible is available from Lifeway, Christianbook.com, and Amazon.
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:11-12)
Through the Bible: Exodus 1-3
The scene of God appearing to Moses at the burning bush is one of the most significant moments in the entire biblical record. After 40 years of tending sheep in the wilderness, the 80 year old Moses turns aside to marvel at the bush that is burning but not consumed. God assures his servant that He is aware of the suffering of His people in Egypt. Notice all the pronouns. God says,
“I have seen their affliction… and [I] have heard their cry” (v. 7)
“I know their sufferings” (v. 7)
“I have come down to deliver them” (v. 8)
“[and I will] bring them up out of that land” (v. 8)
“the cry of the people has come to Me” (v. 9)
“I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.”
Up to this point, Moses is saying, “Yes! Get ‘em, God! Sic ‘em!” I’ll bet Moses can’t wait to watch God kick some Egyptian butt.
Then, in verse 10, God throws Moses a curve: “Therefore, I am sending you.”
All this time Moses is getting pumped about how God is going to work, only to have everything come crashing down when he realizes God’s plan is to work through Moses. In Exodus 4, we will look at all the excuses Moses makes for why God’s got the wrong guy. But the first two are significant:
Who am I? (verse 11)
Who are You? (verse 13)
Moses may have thought to himself, “God, if you were going to use me, why didn’t you do this forty years ago, when I was a prince of Egypt? Why now, when I’m a fugitive octogenarian?”
God’s answer is not “Moses, you’re awesome! Moses, you can do it!” God doesn’t give Moses a self-esteem pep talk. He simply says, “I will be with you.”
Who are you? You’re the one that I, the Lord, will be with.”
Then God answers the question Moses hasn’t asked yet, but that God must have known was in his heart. It’s the question we all ask every time we are considering a missions opportunity, or a new job, or which college you’re supposed to go to, or if this new dating relationship is “the one.”
God, how do I know You’re in this?
I am sure Moses would have loved some visible sign of God’s presence. Some illuminated path, like that green line in the commercial about financial planning. Or maybe a talking animal sidekick, like every Disney princess ever.
Instead, God says, “and here’s how you know that I have sent you. When you’ve brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship Me on this mountain.”
Talk about delayed gratification! Moses will not worship God on that mountain again until he receives the law in Exodus 20. After the ten plagues. After the Red Sea. After manna and quail and water from the rock. When all is said and done, Moses will look back and realize God was with him the whole time.
We may not have the assurance that God is with us until after we begin to obey Him. But when we do obey Him, we begin to realize that who we are doesn’t matter at all. Who God is makes all the difference in the world.