Day 027: Trouble Brewing? (Genesis 43-45)

17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18 and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ (Genesis 45:17-18)

Let’s play a game: without looking at your Bible or the verse printed above, answer this question:

“Who’s idea was it to move Israel and his entire family to Egypt?”

The idea started with Joseph (Genesis 45:9-11).

It was confirmed by Pharaoh (Genesis 45:17-18).

God didn’t initiate it, and no one ever inquired of God about it.

Contrast this with the Abraham account. God explicitly told Abraham to pack up his family and move from Ur to the land God would show him (Genesis 12:1). You don’t get that in Chapter 45.

It’s true that in Genesis 46, you see the Lord telling Jacob, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” (Genesis 46:3-4).

So, yes, God promised His manifest presence, but only after Jacob had already made up His mind to leave the Promised Land. And don’t miss that God told Jacob that He would bring him, Jacob, back up from Egypt again:

I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, (Gen. 46:4)

Seventeen years later, a full decade after the famine was over, Jacob and his entire family are still hanging out in Egypt, thriving, multiplying, and year by year forgetting their true promised land.

They are a little like the boys taken to Pleasure Island in “Pinocchio.” When they lose all sense of where they have come from and where their true home is, a Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph” could easily shackle them.

I know this post goes in a different direction than what seems plain in the text, and arguments from silence are shaky to begin with. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Moses is writing all this in retrospect. He knows what happens next. And as a gifted writer who is also writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is possible that Moses is foreshadowing the trouble that is to come.

At the very least, It’s a reminder to me to never get too comfortable here. This world is not my home. The pleasures of Egypt are sweet for a season, but my Promised Land lies well beyond its borders.

Day 026: God’s Sovereign Symphony (Genesis 41-43)

Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s Dream. Genesis 41:25-26. 19th century. Colored engraving. ‘Historia de la Naciones’.

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Genesis 41:25 ESV

Tara-Leigh’s God shot today, about God’s kindness and generosity poured out even on His enemies, got me thinking: I wonder what Moses thought about all this?

Moses wrote Genesis; which means he wrote this knowing that Egypt, which God delivered from famine through Joseph, will one day enslave his people for 400 years.

I wonder if when Moses was doing his Bible Recap that day (or maybe for Moses it was a Bible WRITE-cap), he wondered, “God, couldn’t Joseph have just stayed in Canaan, and warned his own people about the coming famine?”

“Couldn’t You have just bypassed the whole ‘400 years of bondage’ thing; and the ‘40 years of wandering in the wilderness before getting to the Promised Land’ thing; and worked it out so that Israel never had to leave Canaan in the first place?”

God could have done that, sure. But if He had, we never would have had the picture of God’s redemption of His people out of bondage. We never would have had the picture of God always preserving a remnant of His people. We would never have learned to trust God’s timing, because we never would have had to.

And we wouldn’t have had the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. God told Abraham that all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 12:2-3). And now, in 41:57:

“Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭41:57‬ ‭ESV‬‬*

*File this away for later: many prophecies have multiple layers of fulfillment. There can be an immediate fulfillment, a near future fulfillment, and an ultimate fulfillment. The ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham is, of course, Jesus. But here we see an intermediate fulfillment in Joseph.

I am not a musician by any stretch, but I’ve been in marching band rehearsals where the conductor would say, “Okay, just the woodwinds,” or “I want to hear the percussion on this section.” And when you take any one part of the band in isolation from the others, it doesn’t sound right. But when all the parts come together, you hear the symphony. You recognize the intent of the composer. And you say, “Oh… NOW I get it.”

God’s plan is a sovereign symphony. Wait for all the parts to come together.

Lord, today, don’t let me question Your sovereign timeline. Whether it is the thirteen years of Joseph’s slavery or the seven years of famine or the 400 years of Israel’s bondage  let me trust you.

Whether it is three months of lockdown, or three years of pandemic, or a four year presidential term, let me trust you. Your timing is perfect. Your plan is magnificent, and your sovereignty is undisputed.

Allow me to appreciate all the instruments in Your sovereign symphony.

Review of “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

Day 025: The First Breach Baby (Genesis 38-40)

27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez.[e] (Genesis 38:27)

Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them. (Psalm 106:23)

and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, (Matthew 1:3)

In the middle of the story of Joseph, we have this random and scandalous story about Judah fathering twins with his daughter in law. As the twins are being born, one puts his hand out. The midwife ties a scarlet thread on his hand to indicate that technically, he was the first one to be born. But then his brother came out. So when the firstborn emerges, the midwife says something odd—“What a breach you have made for yourself” (other translations put it in the form of a question: “How did you break through?”). Which leads Tamar to name the child Perez, the Hebrew word for “breach” or “break forth.” He was the first recorded breach baby.

It’s a weird story. But it points to Christ. Perez establishes his place in the family tree of Jesus, because the Lion of the tribe of Judah would come through Perez, and not his brother Zerah.

Incidentally, here’s yet another example of a younger son having preeminence over an older son. (See Day 020: “A Pattern to Pay Attention To”)

Let’s think about the midwife’s words in verse 29: “What a breach you have made for yourself!” This word “breach” is both a verb and a noun. As a verb, it means to break through or create an opening. When an army breaches the enemy’s defenses, it often turns the tide of the battle and assures the defeat of the enemy.

When “breach” is used as a noun, it describes the gap between two things. It’s the opening in the wall. It’s also the rift in the relationship.

Consider how this story of the first breach baby points to Jesus:

Like Zerah, who was born first and then drew back, Jesus is the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15). Yet, Jesus was not born into the world until thousands of years after the first man, Adam. He withdrew. He held back until “just the right time” (Romans 5:6-8).

And then, He broke through. He breached (verb) the lines of the Enemy and turned the tide of the battle. When He broke through, victory was made certain.

At the same time He stood in the breach (noun) between Holy God and sinful man. Like Moses was described in Psalm 106, Jesus turned God’s wrath away from us.

Jesus is the ultimate breach baby. He has broken forth into our world. And because of Him, we can grasp hold of the “scarlet thread of redemption.”

Note: The phrase “scarlet thread of redemption” comes from a classic Bible study by WA Criswell, in which he traced the motif of the scarlet thread all through scripture. You can download a free pdf of the study here.

Day 024: Behold, The Dreamer (Genesis 35-37)

Plaque at National Civil Rights Museum

19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:19-20)

Genesis 37:19-20 is on a plaque outside room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It is meant to evoke King’s most famous speech, and what is indisputably one of the greatest speeches in American history—the “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lorraine Hotel is now the location of the National Civil Rights museum.

Fifty-plus years later, we are still waiting to see what will become of King’s dreams. If you began this plan at the beginning of the year, then a week ago today we observed Martin Luther King’s birthday. In my home state of Alabama, there are still those who observe Robert E Lee’s birthday on the same day. I know someone who works for a Christian organization. Last week, she heard one of her coworkers say, “Personally, I would much rather remember Robert E Lee’s birthday than Martin Luther King’s.” I’m not sure what she meant by that. Not sure I want to know.

There are those who complain about how much we make heroes out of flawed people. They mention allegations of Dr King’s infidelity. It’s strange to me that I was having that conversation with someone a couple of days ago who is doing the same reading plan I am. Which means we’ve both spent our quiet time reading stories of Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Jacob, Rachel— deeply flawed individuals that we still name our kids after.

On the other hand, we also make villains out of decent people whose biggest flaw was that they were a product of the times in which they lived. There were people who framed the Constitution, fought bravely and honorably in war, advanced science and medicine, and even preached convicting sermons, who nevertheless could not escape the prejudices of their paradigm.

If the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that God uses adulterers, cheaters, drunks, liars, doubters, harlots, zealots, killers, bigots, and thieves to accomplish his purposes.

We will get to the end of the Joseph story in the next few days. If this is not your first time through the Bible, then you know that it ends with redemption, and with Joseph’s amazing statement of faith to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20).

And in many ways, the same can be said for the legacy of Martin Luther King. What an assassin meant for evil was used for good, as MLK’s death became the catalyst for a lot of positive change.

And yet, there is still much to be done. In recent years it seems we have lost ground in the fight against racism. To paraphrase King himself, we can praise God that we aren’t where we used to be, but we sure are not where we want to be. There are many days in which “what will become of his dreams” is still very much an open question.

Day 023: You Shall Be Called Israel (Genesis 32-34)

27 And [the angel] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. (Genesis 32:27-29)

My undergrad degree is in English literature, so I was trained to be on the lookout for motifs and tropes that are common in literature and mythology. There’s a motif in literature about knowing someone’s true name. One scholar writes, “A true name describes something or someone’s essential nature. Knowing a true name gives one power over the owner of the name.”

Remember the fairy tale Rumplestiltskin? When the girl learned the true name of the imp, she gained power over him, and she was freed from her vow to him. You see it again in the movie Beetlejuice. Say his name three times, and you can escape him.

Which brings me to today’s reading. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God. When Jacob asks God for his name in their wrestling match (presumably to gain an advantage over his adversary), God doesn’t respond. He merely says, “Why do you ask my name?” (V 29)

The same thing happens in Judges 13:18. When the angel of the Lord appears to Samson’s parents to tell them about Samson’s birth, Manoah asks the name of the angel of the Lord, and He responds, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful for you.”

So here’s my lesson for today: I will never be able to call on God’s name to manipulate Him or bend Him to my will. God never tells His name to anyone that demands it of Him. We will never be able to use the name of God like a magic spell, to get what we want.

BUT… God in His mercy graciously REVEALS His name to His children! He wants to be known by us. He draws near to His servants, telling them His Name. Indeed, showing His many names through His loving character:

When we demand God’s name, He is silent.

When God reveals His name, we are blessed.

Day 022: The Speckled Flock Before the Throne (Genesis 30-31)

Detail of Norman Rockwell’s Do Unto Others

10 In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. 11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 12 And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. (Genesis 31:10-12)

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16)

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, (Revelation 7:9)

Genesis 30 tells the story of Jacob and Laban’s ongoing feud and continual scheming—each trying to get the upper hand on the other. Jacob suggests they can differentiate their flocks if they agree to let Laban claim all of the goats that are white, and Jacob will get all the goats that are black, speckled, or spotted. It doesn’t really matter that there’s no scientific basis for the idea that goats who mate in front of spotted poplar branches will give birth to spotted goats. What really matters is that God prospered Jacob. He blessed Jacob because He had promised to, and also because He had seen all that Laban had done to cheat him (Gen. 31:12).

Now, maybe I’m reading into the text here, but I have to wonder if this speckled, spotted, mottled, black, brown, off-white flock is also a prophetic picture of God’s kingdom. For a long time, the church in America tried its best to be an all-white flock. But that was never God’s intention. Jesus came to create one flock for himself. It would be made up of both Jews and Gentiles. This is what He meant when He told His disciples “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (John 10:16). And one day, there will be a multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation standing before the throne. Red and yellow, black and white. Streaked and spotted, blemished and mottled. There will be one flock, with one shepherd.

Oh Lord, haste the day.

Day 021: The Error of Esau (Genesis 27:38)

“Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭27:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Sometimes God uses human characters in Scripture to show us what He is like. But in the heartbreaking story of Isaac and Esau, God shows us what He is not like.

Jacob cheats Esau out of the blessing that should have been his. You can read the whole sorry story in Genesis 27. But when Esau realizes the deception, the pain and bitterness of his heart’s cry tears me up. Three times he begs:

“Bless me, even me also, O my father!””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭27:34

“Have you not reserved a blessing for me?””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭27:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭27:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Esau saw the blessing of the father as a zero-sum game. If Jacob gets it, he doesn’t. And apparently Isaac understood it the same way. Thankfully, in the next generation, Jacob seems to have learned from Isaac’s mistake. He has a blessing for all twelve of his sons. (See Genesis 49)

Do we treat God the same way? Do we look at the big church across town and wonder why all God’s blessings seem to be going in their direction? Do we look with envy on other families Facebook feeds and instagrams and say “Bless me too, my Father!”?

Worse, do we think God’s blessing of our nation or our race or our culture or our way of doing things is all the blessing He has to give?

God, have mercy on us.

Oh God, forgive us for treating you like a human father with only so much blessing to go around. Your storehouse of blessing is bottomless!

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭11:33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭11:33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And God, because we have freely received, let us freely give of your bottomless blessings (Matthew 10:8)!

Day 021: Where’s Dr. Phil When You Need Him? (Genesis 27-29)

5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” (Genesis 27:5-10)

Family dynamics are super dysfunctional in Genesis.

I feel more than a little sorry for Esau in Genesis 27. It’s been pretty clear from the day they were born that their mom liked Jacob best (see Gen. 25:28). But maybe he thought to himself, “That’s ok. I’ll still have Dad’s blessing.” And as any modern day psychologist will tell you, the father’s approval is what matters most to a boy.

So it’s painful for me to read Genesis 27, in which Jacob, the mama’s boy, cheats Esau out of receiving the blessing his father wanted to give him, IN COLLUSION WITH HIS MOTHER.

Paging Dr. Phil…

Keep in mind Rebekah is Laban’s sister (Gen. 24:29). We see in Genesis 29 how Laban himself cheated Jacob, so apparently conniving and scheming run in the family.

But there’s something else to keep in mind, and it may help you feel better about Rebekah. God revealed to Rebekah, even before her sons were born, that the older brother (Esau) would serve the younger brother (Jacob; see Genesis 25:23). Significantly, this is the only time in the Old Testament the Lord spoke directly to a woman. You might be saying, “Hold up—didn’t we just read a couple of days ago how God spoke to Hagar?” (See Day 017) We did. But Genesis 16:7-8 says that is was the angel of the Lord that spoke to Hagar. In Genesis 24:22-23, Rebekah “went to inquire of the Lord” (also a one-time occurrence in the Old Testament), and the Lord Himself spoke to her.

Even if it is a distinction without a difference—most scholars equate “THE” angel of the Lord with a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ—then it is still significant that Rebekah is the only Hebrew woman to whom God speaks directly in the Old Testament.

So Rebekah gets a direct word from God that Jacob is to be the favored child. Scripture does not say that Isaac received that same prophetic word. So maybe Rebekah does what she does because she knows something Isaac doesn’t. Maybe she advocates for Jacob in order to help God out and make sure the prophecy comes true. After all, helping God out and taking matters into your own hands is another trait that seems to run in the family. Her mother in law Sarah did the same thing when she offered Hagar to her husband (see Genesis 16:1-8).

There’s enough drama in this family to fill an entire season of The Young and the Restless. And it’s okay to dislike Rebekah and Jacob, or even Isaac for being so easily deceived. What we will see over and over in this reading plan is that every human character is flawed and imperfect. Jesus is the only flawless character in all of Scripture.

Day 020: What, Exactly, was Isaac Doing With Rebekah in Gen 26:8?

“When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭26:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I have questions about this whole episode of Isaac lying to Abimelech about Rebekah being his sister and not his wife. This is exactly the same thing Abraham did a generation before, even down to the name of the ruler (although, probably not the same Abimelech, see Gen 20). Why was history repeating itself? I would expect Abraham to have some kind of talk with Isaac about not repeating his father’s mistakes. But either the talk never happened, or Isaac didn’t listen.

But here’s the question I had from today’s reading: when Abimelech looked out his window and saw Isaac and Rebekah, what were they doing?

Using the “Bible Comparison” feature on the amazing BlueLetterBible app, you get lots of options for this word, from “sporting” to “caressing” to “fondling,” “dallying” (my personal favorite—very “Downton Abbey”-ish), to “showing endearment to”.

This is actually a great example of the tension Bible translators face: do you try to capture the most literal meaning of the word, or the most accurate sense of the passage?

In this case, the ESV opts for literal. The word in question is the Hebrew sahaq, which means “laughing.” But laughing with your sister wouldn’t necessarily lead Abimelech to conclude that she was actually your wife. So there must have been more going on, and I don’t think the ESV made the best choice here. To their credit, they do try to make it more understandable with a footnote: “Hebrew may suggest an intimate relationship.”

One more fun fact: Hebrew is playful with its very language itself here. The word sahaq has the same root as the name Isaac. So, literally, it reads “Isaac was isaac-ing Rebekah.” They both are related to laughter. Blue Letter Bible also has an Interlinear feature that allows you to to word studies in Greek and Hebrew. Look at the similarity between the two words below:

So if you take nothing else away from this post, at least take this: Blue Letter Bible is THE BEST study tool to have on your phone. And it’s free! And remember this truth of Bible study: the deeper you dig, the more treasure you find.

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