Jacob lived in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
These are the generations of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 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. 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.
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, "Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf." His brothers said to him, "Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me." But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?" And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. (ESV)
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The Counsel of the Cross
Wednesday of Pentecost 24
26 November 2014
|What a shocking injustice befalls Joseph of the Old Testament! He is certainly treated unfairly by his envious brothers. When we see his experience we are deeply offended. Our hearts yearn to see him rescued and our ire is raised against the wickedness of his brothers, who both sold their brother into slavery and embittered the life of their aged father by telling him the lie that this son of his was dead. If these are brothers and sons, Joseph might hope for mere enemies to work against him instead and thus to hope for a modicum of mercy. Yet, Joseph never despaired of God's mercy and care for him. He never doubted God's goodness, refusing to commit adultery with Potiphar's randy wife out of respect for God's prohibition against adultery, and speaking for God while left to rot in an Egyptian prison. How easily Joseph could have concluded on the basis of his experience that God had entirely and summarily abandoned him to a slow and agonizing death buried in obscurity in a foreign land.|
You may say, "Oh, well, but he became the prime minister of the most powerful nation of the time." Ah, yes, hind sight is always 20-20. But when he is left to languish in the hell hole of prison, forgotten even by those to whom he had shown great kindness, he never doubted God's mercy and looked forward to God's rescue, in whatever form God would bring it to him; even if rescue meant more suffering for him. He was as good as dead; a slave condemned to a punishment worse than death. Joseph lived by faith.
One can only live by faith in the midst of such sufferings and burdens. There are no external props that will support us in the midst of such trials. Often people conclude that God is their enemy; that He has afflicted them unjustly and unfairly. If they judge with their eyes, ears, all their senses, and heart, they would be absolutely correct. But our Lord discourages our measurement of Him according to our earthly standards. His cross points to a standard of divine mercy that teaches an acceptance of suffering, which the world can never fathom nor understand. Faith believes there is life when we feel only the burden of death, that there is salvation where we feel only damnation, and that there is peace where we feel only animosity. We judge God so easily on the basis of human wickedness like the child who whines to his parent about how unfair life is. "If God truly loved me he would make every lottery ticket a winner."
The theology of the cross means that God is only seen in the contraries, in the opposites. He mocks our spiritual wisdom by destroying it with His foolishness. We can judge our experiences on the basis of human standards and there is a place for this in our daily earthly life. But the picture painted by this judgment never tells us about God's love for us in Christ. Only His promises to us will tell us that He will never leave us nor forsake us, especially when we feel abandoned and forsaken by God (Ps 22:1). Our feeling can never trump God's decisive will to love us even to death, His death on the cross.
"This passage (Gn 45) should be especially noted with regard to the counsel of God, which is also proclaimed in Is 55:8-9: 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.' And Jn 3:31 says: 'He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.' It is earthly language to say: 'Joseph perished after being sold.' But in heavenly language that same thing is called a sending for salvation and life. This is our Lord God.
"Therefore let us learn not to follow our own thoughts or to measure and understand by our own counsels, our misfortunes or works and experiences. To be sure, the matter is carried out before men according to human custom, and human language calls this sending the destruction and ruin of Joseph; but there is a twofold fatherland, and the regions of heaven and earth are different. Therefore both the works and the way of speaking are different.
"Before the world Christ is killed, condemned, and descends into hell. But before God this is the salvation of the whole world from the beginning all the way to the end."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.6
Lord Christ, You have been killed before the world. Yet, Your death is my life. The world looks upon it as Your ignominious end. Faith teaches me that it is my glorious life. Help me to believe this ever more strongly the less I feel it. Amen.
For Doris Betke, that the Lord Jesus might bring her peace in the midst of trial
For the wives of Christian pastors, that they might be strengthened as they bear the crosses that inevitably come to the families of the servants of the cross
In thanksgiving to God for all the abundant gifts He showers upon us, that we might offer praises to Him for first article gifts
For the people of Ferguson, MO, that the Lord would bring calm to a community where the perception of injustice is giving rise to wickedness
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014