Category Archives: Devotions

The Favor of God in the Life of Joseph

 

If one were to summarize the life of Joseph it might well be this: Joseph experienced the favor of God, in good times and in bad, through the providential working of God, for his good and the magnification of the glory of God.

While Joseph is certainly the central human figure in Genesis 38-41, most definitely the passage is centered upon the actions and character of God, often moving through and in front of Joseph.

About 8 years ago, we touched on the providence of God in the life of Joseph and that is probably the most recognizable theme within the story of Joseph. However, there is an equally compelling work of God in the Joseph’s life.  It is primarily displayed as God’s favor towards Joseph, which again brings us to a worthy meditation.

In Genesis 39 we find Joseph, whom his brothers have sold into slavery, ascending to the highest position in the house of Potipher, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh.  Verse 2 of this chapter sets the tone for our discussion here and serves as a reminder that despite the circumstances, which of course were filled with adversity, God never left Joseph’s side, “The Lord was with Joseph….”  This concept is repeated a couple of verses later, but the effects are expanded, “From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, 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.” Gen. 39:5  This formula is used again and serves to frame this pericope in Genesis 39:23.

The principal question for us is, what does it mean that the Lord was with Joseph?  Summarily, we may call this the favor of God or the beneficence of God, to use the term from the Reformation Study Bible.

It would be enough for us if we observed this favor of God towards Joseph during times of prosperity.  For instance, if we read, “and the Lord was with Joseph” and found it occurring during a time of prosperity or blessing, it would likely be more palatable for us.  The difficulty, and what makes this even more worthy of our marvel, is that these statements are made after Joseph has been sold into slavery and again after he has been falsely accused and imprisoned.

The point is this:  often during our darkest or perhaps loneliest or perhaps our most adverse times, we get the impression not only that God is not for us, but that He is not even with us.  Yet the opposite is true and precisely what we see in the Joseph narrative.

Let’s pause to ponder this briefly.  Joseph, an Israelite by birth, is a slave in Northern Africa, Egypt to be precise, sold by his brothers no less.  Who did he have with him during this seemingly dry, deserted time in his life?  Noone…but God.

God’s favor towards Joseph was so abundant that it spilled over into the life and house of a pagan, Egyptian ruler, as seen in the verse above,  “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.”  Genesis 39:5  Have you ever considered that in your life, including your affliction, the favor that God may show you is so abundant that it positively impacts those around you?

Sometimes our inability to see God’s presence in our lives, particularly during difficulty, is because we are looking through the lens of circumstance, rather than through the lens of providence.  The former is blinding, the later is illuminating.  The former is crippling, the later is comforting.

God has promised to never leave us or forsake us and it is a promise that we should set our hope in.  A promise rooted and grounded in the love of the Father to send His only begotten Son to die, in the love of the Son who gave up His life willingly, and the love of the Spirit, who daily comforts us and brings to mind the aforementioned promises of God.

 

Every Day

 

The book of Hebrews weaves a tapestry of exhortations for believers between passages on the fulfillment of Old Covenant types and shadows by our Lord in the New Covenant.  While there are certainly individual warnings and exhortations, there are a number specifically applying to the community of God’s people.

One example of this occurs in Hebrews 3:13, 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Not to be quickly dismissed, the conjunction “but” links this verse with the one immediately preceeding it, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” 

As seen in the opening of verse 13, what follows is an exhortation.  This word, parakaleo, may also be translated beseech, or more clearly to strongly encourage, literally “you-be-beside-calling” or more personally, we might even say “me-beside-you-calling.”  It carries with it, rather obviously, an implied communication between two parties, which becomes clearly stated with the phrase that follows, one another.  While not the more familiar Greek word, allelon, translated one another, it nevertheless carries with it the same significance.  When combined with our previous word, we arrive at a command for mutual admonishment.  In case there would be any question as to the frequency of this exhortation, our Lord provides the parameters, every day.

Summarizing this verse so far, we have

What: Exhort

Who: One Another

When: Everyday

Now, we move on to the “why” or the purpose of the exhortation, an application for the doctrine of one-anothering, “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  As the author directs his command to his audience, we find there are three key words in this phrase: hardened, deceitfulness, and sin.

The first, hardened, refers to the condition of the heart and may well be translated as stubborn or obstinate.  This is the second of three times that this word occurs in this chapter of Hebrews.  The first and third uses are in reference to the Israelites in the wilderness who, “hardened their hearts”.  It is safe to say that these two additional uses provide the bookends for the meaning of the warning in our verse, which clearly warns the reader to guard against the hardening of the heart by holding up the example of the Wilderness Generation.  Recall from above that verse 12, linked to this one, references an evil, unbelieving heart, which is the completion of the hardening process.

Second, deceitfulness.  While this particular word is not used often in the New Testament, interestingly it occurs in the parable of the four soils, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22  Used more generally here, and not merely as an effect of riches, it carries the idea of seduction.  In other words, tempting by way of deception or lies; promising a desire that cannot be delivered unto satisfaction.

Which brings us to the final word, sin.  The principal actor in the aforementioned deception and the root cause of the hardness of the heart.  Sin.  We’ve become so accustomed to hearing the word that it’s likely lost its effectiveness.  Generally summarized by missing the mark or falling short, these too fail to convey the weight of what this word means.

Sin is nothing less than rebellion against the Almighty God.

Recall again that the bookends for this passage is the Wilderness Generation, which is specifically said to be in rebellion against God.  Turning to a general definition of rebellion we find it meaning, “an act of violent or open resistance to an established ruler.”  When we sin, we are literally defying the authority of God.  If we are to grasp the weight of what sin means, we must begin here.

Like a lump of clay in the hot sun, sin hardens the heart through seductive deception that appeals to our flesh but simply cannot deliver on what it promises.  Graciously, in this passage our Lord provides a remedy against the hardness of heart brought about by the deceitfulness of sin and it is found in the one-anothering of mutual encouragement…daily.

Perhaps one of the reasons why professing Christians appear so weak and holiness, even a desire for holiness, is so lacking is that we have failed to obey the commands of one-anothering on a daily basis.  We have become so accustomed to superficial, once-a-week encounters that we are missing out on one of the principal remedies against sin and one of the primary tools for growing in our walk with God.

Daily encouragement from fellow believers.

 

The Unwelcome Fellow Traveler

 

In the 12th chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, there is a fascinating portrayal of Christ’s words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; cf. Deuteronomy 31:6) even in the midst of our own self-pity and despair.  In the scene, the boy, Shasta, is making his way towards the city of Anvard in order to warn them of a pending, unwarranted attack from Rabadash.  After coming to a fork in the road, and ducking along the right-fork away from Rabadash and his men, his exhaustion and self-pity is interrupted by the presence of fear.

“Shasta discovered that someone or something was walking beside him.  It was pitch dark and he could see nothing.  And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls.  What he could hear was breathing.  His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature.  And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there.  It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries.  He bit his lip in terror.  But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.  

The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it.  But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly  came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him.  That couldn’t be imagination!  Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.

If the horse had been any good – or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse – he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop.  But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop.  So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him.  At last he could bear it no longer.

‘Who are you?’  he said, scarcely above a whisper.

‘One who has waited long for you to speak,’ said the Thing.  Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

‘Are you – are you a giant?’ asked Shasta.

‘You might call me a giant,’ said the Large Voice. ‘But I am not like the creatures you call giants.’

‘I can’t see you at all,’ said Shasta, after staring very hard.  Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, ‘You’re not–not something dead, are you? Oh please–please do go away.  What harm have I ever done you?  Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!’

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.  ‘There,’ it said, ‘that is not the breath of a ghost.  Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath:

so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman.  And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert.  And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.  And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice.

‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta.

‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice.

‘What on earth do you mean?  I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –‘

‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’

‘How do you know?’

“I was the lion.”  And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.  ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.'”

The weight of this scene probably cannot be rightly felt unless you’ve read the book, but nevertheless, the scene should be poignant.  At the heart of what young Shasta was experiencing was self-pity, considering himself the unluckiest person in the world.  That perhaps no one had ever had it so bad as he had.  As he laments, unsuspectingly to Aslan the Lion, he lays out all the troubles that he has experienced, including known, fear-laden encounters with multiple lions.  To his surprise, there was only 1 lion, Aslan himself.

This portrait of the Christ-like figure is emblematic of how Christ walks at the side of His own.  Often times, we lament that no one has had it as bad as we have.  We often see evil in every trial, but much like the character from the story above, or we may even say the biblical figure Job, we need to recognize that the hand behind these afflictions is none other than the hand of God.  All the while He leads, directs, pushes, steers, and guides according to His own sovereign pleasure for the accomplishment of His divine will.  Christ our Lord has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is to our detriment that our perception of being unlucky, cursed, or even picked on by Satan, does not match reality that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”