Then [Joseph's brothers] sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekelsof silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.
When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, "The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?" Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, "This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not." And he identified it and said, "It is my son's robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces." Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard. (ESV)
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Back to God's Face
Tuesday of Advent 1
2 December 2014
I have a colleague in the ministry who sits down in my office every few months and gives me a "pep talk." Lately, this speech has been about the ways in which I have not always seen the Lord's will for what it is. The Lord did not bring to me what I had thought best for me. And only in retrospect have the ways of the Lord been seen to be altogether righteous and my perception of them altogether wicked. I have not always seen properly the paths of God. What I have taken to be bad for me and His church, He has turned to ultimate good. This often implied that I had to suffer and also be quiet about it. Sometimes there were slander and lies involved, but I had to put up with it. At the time my own "druthers" seemed so much better and more attractive.
Only in hindsight was I forced to confess that the will of God is good and right, no matter how it felt at the time. Hindsight is truly 20-20 when we see everything through the sign of the cross. This can only be done later, often long after. At first we see only suffering, wrath, and trial. We cry out, "Why can't this be any easier? What have I done to deserve this?" We demand to have God intervene in a way that is powerful, providential, and perfectly clear. We want to see God "working in our lives." Our enemies need to be swept away before us and God ought to get on His high horse and do it like a medieval knight, a champion of the downtrodden and needy (like me!). While we are looking for the charger carrying the lancer of salvation to destroy our enemies, we have failed to see that God is in the crowd with us. We can see his back as we peer over His head seeking a vision of Him that would mislead us. The shoulders ahead of us in the crowd belong to the man whose back is before us, scarred and bleeding from the manhandling of those who, like us, could not see that the back was God's. He becomes the God close by who shows us His back that we might know who He is.
We think that God has been gracious to us when we have control of others and are in charge of our own lives, like Hagar of the Old Testament. She thought she had the world by the tail because she gave Abram, the patriarch, an heir. "God must be on my side. I have a son and Sarai does not. I can lord it over her, because she is a dried-up old woman." Only when Hagar was left to wander about in the wilderness did she recognize that those signs of her power in the patriarchal family were faulty and ephemeral. Only then when she had not power, no prop and no hope, was she finally able to see God for what He was. Only in the midst of affliction we can recognize the God of power and glory for what He is. Only when we share His weakness with Him can we truly see. We look into the face of the One who was despised and forsaken, whose bruised and bloody face is the face of God with us. Do not look beyond God's back, for by doing so you will never see His face.
"The doctrine of philosophy and that of the law are different from [the theology of the gospel]. Moses is a man with a tongue that is somewhat impeded and slow. He lisps and stutters. He cannot bring out this word. But the Promissor and Savior Jehovah speaks this way. Foolish nature, however, and the flesh corrupted by sin, does not understand except after the suffering has finally come to an end. 'You shall see my back' (Ex 33:23), the Lord says to Moses when he asked to be shown His face; that is, 'You will discern my thoughts after the deed has been done.' Thus here Joseph and Jacob and his sons do not see God's face; they see His back. For when Joseph was sold and his father was grieving, God's face was hidden. Neither did any god appear, but the whole world seemed to be full of devils. Now that His counsel has been fulfilled and made manifest, they clearly perceive and recognize the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rm 12:2).
"Thus Hagar said above: 'Here I see the back of him who watches over me' (Gn 16:13 Lat). It is as though she were saying: 'When God had regard for me, I did not see Him. Now I see the back parts of Him who has looked at me, although hitherto I have been ignorant of all His counsels and works.' Thus Christ says to Peter: 'What I am doing you do not understand now' (Jn 13:7). 'You want to anticipate Me and to teach Me what must be done for Me. You are making a big mistake. For it is your duty to bear and endure My hand. Let Me do as I please. Afterwards you will know and understand what I have intended with this washing.'
"This, then, is the way the saints are governed and the wisdom of the church of God, namely, that they are not scandalized by the counsels of God or offended by the face with which He meets us. For sometimes He wraps it up and hides it, so that we not able to recognize or look upon it. He is indeed the God of life, glory, salvation, joy, and peace; and this is the true face of God. But He covers it sometimes and puts on another mask by which He offers Himself to us as the God of wrath, death, and hell. See to it, therefore, that you are wise and understand, that you learn and hear what He means with His unusual and alien appearance. For this is done in order that you may be humbled, that you may endure and await the hand of the Lord and the revelation of His face."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.5
O Lord, give us an abiding trust in Your good will that no impatience or suffering of mind or body may weaken our faith in You. Teach us to say, "Thy will be done," and to accept Your holy and gracious will in all things. Out of the shadows of our doubts and fears, bring the light of Your great mercy toward us by the power of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For the Luther Academy and Executive Director Robert Bennett, that the Lord Jesus would give success to the Academy's efforts
For military personnel around the world, that they would be faithful to their duty and that the holy angels would watch over them as they establish and keep the peace
For President Lawrence Rast and the faculty and staff of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that they might continue to be faithful to the mission of the seminary to reach the lost, teach the faithful, and care for all
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014