Exodus means “going out.” The book tells the story of the Israelites’ release from bondage in Egypt about 1450 B.C. Exodus tells how God, faithful to the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, performed miracles to shatter the bonds holding His people. The fast-paced adventure moves quickly to Sinai. Here Exodus lingers, and in careful detail explores the Law that God gave His people to live by. This code was intended to teach the Israelites how to love God and how to love one another. Exodus also introduces Moses, that towering Old Testament character who is revered in Judaism as the lawgiver, and whose faithfulness to God serves as a model for modern Christian laymen and leaders. Most significant, however, is what Exodus reveals about God. God uses His power to redeem His people. God demands holiness from those who claim relationship with Him. And God provides a way for sinners to approach Him and be transformed.
Genesis 47–50“ I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers” (Gen. 48:21).Genesis ends with Jacob’s family settled in Egypt. Yet the passing of the patriarchs marks the beginning, not the end, of what God will do for and through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the same with us. The passing of one generation is not the end. As we trust in God, we can say to our children, “God will be with you.” We can rely on God to work out His purpose in their lives.
The family arrived and was settled on prime Egyptian land (47:1–31). Jacob counted Joseph’s 2 sons as his own (48:1–22), and blessed all 13 before he died (49:1–33). Joseph buried his father, reaffirmed his forgiveness of his brothers, and obtained a promise that when God brought their offspring back to Canaan, Joseph’s bones would be returned to his homeland (50:1–26).
Understanding the Text
“Egypt and Canaan” Gen. 47:1–31. Canaan depended on rainfall for the moisture needed to raise crops. Egypt, however, depended on the Nile River, which overflowed annually and enriched the farmlands lying along its banks. Times of famine are reported in ancient Egyptian records, yet the Nile generally made Egypt famine-proof. Egyptian reliefs and records depict peoples from Syria-Palestine asking permission to stay in Egypt in famine, and coming to Egypt to buy food. “The land became Pharaoh’s” Gen. 47:20. Ancient inscriptions confirm that Egypt was considered to belong to Pharaoh, and that 20 percent of the crop was to be his. Records also show that temple lands did not belong to Pharaoh, which meant that Egypt’s rulers were often troubled by too-independent religious hierarchies. No independent Egyptian records tell the story of Joseph or explain how Pharaoh’s ownership was established. “Your two sons . . . will be reckoned as mine” Gen. 48:1–22. It is sometimes confusing. The “12 tribes of Israel” are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. Yet if we compare lists, there are actually 13 tribal groups! Levi is not included in some lists, because this tribe provided priests and worship leaders. On other lists, such as the one in Revelation 7:5–8, Levi is included and Dan is left out. What happened is that Jacob “adopted” the two sons of Joseph. These two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, became heads of tribal groups, and the name “Joseph” was dropped. It’s helpful for us to remember this if someone else is given credit for what we have done while our name remains unmentioned. Genesis reminds us that it isn’t recognition that is important. It’s contribution. Joseph’s name may not appear in Scripture’s lists of Israelite tribes. But we know—and God knows—that he made a greater contribution than any of the other brothers! Jacob’s blessing Gen. 49:1–28. The concept of blessing is a powerful one in the Old Testament. In giving a blessing, a superior, such as a father, verbally conferred a gift or endowment to another person. This was not magic, for the Old Testament makes it clear that all blessing is from God (14:19; Num. 22; Deut. 10:8). Only a person who was in a close personal relationship with God could act as a channel through which God blessed others. In Genesis 49, Jacob, enabled by God, looks ahead and in his blessing makes oft-obscure predictions about the future of each family group, based in part on the character of each of his sons (v. 28). What is more important to us, however, is a phrase found in the blessing given Joseph. That phrase is, “Because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you . . . your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains” (vv. 25–26). The deep faith in God that Joseph displayed blessed his sons, and remained a vital influence even on distant generations. If we want to be a blessing to our children’s children, there is no surer way than for us to live as close to God as Joseph did. When we are faithful and obedient, our “blessings are greater.” “The scepter will not depart from Judah” Gen. 49:10. Jesus came from the tribe of Judah. This blessing, which predicts a ruler to emerge from Judah’s line, is one of the earliest and clearest of the Old Testament’s messianic prophecies. “A full forty days” Gen. 50:1–14. The text again provides an accurate picture of cultural backgrounds. Israelite burial took place as soon after death as possible, with no attempt made to preserve the body. In Egypt, however, a lengthy process of removing viscera and treating the body with preservatives was followed. Jacob was embalmed after the Egyptian pattern because he had asked his sons to bury him in Canaan, too long a journey to take with a corrupting corpse. Why would Jacob want to be buried in Canaan? Jacob’s request was an affirmation of faith. God had promised that his descendants would inherit Canaan. In choosing to be buried with his father and grandfather in Canaan, Jacob affirmed his conviction that his descendants would return and God’s promises would be fulfilled. “God will surely come to your aid” Gen. 50:22–26. When death finally visited Joseph, he too took the opportunity to affirm his faith in God’s covenant. He had the family promise that, when God did bring the Hebrews out of Egypt and give them the Promised Land, his body would be carried home. The deaths of Joseph and Jacob remind us that the funerals of believers, while darkened by grief, are also bright with hope. Neither Joseph nor Jacob viewed death as the end. Each looked beyond his own time on earth and found comfort in what God would do in the future. This is also the case with us. Because of Jesus we understand even better than they. Death’s sting still hurts. But we know that the death of the body is our induction into a full experience of eternal life.
What If? (Gen. 50:1–21)
I remember how strange I felt that afternoon. I slipped into our living room, edged past my dad, and headed for my room. Usually it wasn’t like that. Usually I hurried home, ran to Dad, and asked if we were going fishing that afternoon. Not that day. That day I’d gone to school clutching a coin Dad gave me to buy new shoelaces. I went into Eli Bassett’s store. But I never made it past the candy counter. At school I tried to eat the candy, but it didn’t taste right, and I threw it away. That afternoon I told my dad I had lost the money. Somehow knowing that I had done wrong distorted my relationship with my dad. I didn’t feel comfortable with him that afternoon. Not at all. So I really can understand Joseph’s brothers. They remembered the wrong they had done, and it made them uncomfortable. What if Joseph held a grudge? What if Joseph intended to pay them back? What if? Joseph must have understood too. The text says that “he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” Joseph even made his commitment to them unmistakably clear: “I will provide for you and your children.” What was it that freed Joseph to forgive so freely? Perspective. Joseph realized his brothers had intended to harm him. But he also understood that God had used his siblings to achieve a good and important end. In looking beyond the act to consider God, Joseph was able to see his brothers’ sins in a fresh perspective. Sensing the good hand of God even in the evil others did freed Joseph from anger and from any desire to take revenge. It’s strange, isn’t it? The brothers suffered more from their earlier sins than the man they had sinned against! Just as a child I suffered more from misusing the money Dad gave me to buy shoelaces than he did. I suffered more because my act made me feel guilty, and awareness of guilt created what seemed to me an uncrossable gulf in my relationship with my dad. When someone we know sins against us, we need to adopt Joseph’s view of things. We need to realize that God can and will use even our hurts for good. We need to understand that sin hurts the sinner, perhaps even more than it hurts the person sinned against. We can react with anger when we are hurt. We can strike out or use silence as a weapon to express our pain. Or we can take Joseph’s course and “speak comfortably” to the person who sins against us. This doesn’t mean that we ignore the sin. After all, Joseph said, “You intended to harm me.” But Joseph went on to “speak comfortably” to his brothers, to reassure them of forgiveness and express again his commitment to them. When we take Joseph’s course, making plain our willingness to forgive and our continuing commitment to care for the one who has hurt us, then the pain of sinner and sinned against can be healed. And we will have walked in a path marked out not only by Joseph, but by Jesus as well.
If you sense your alienation from someone who has hurt or sinned against you, why not try Joseph’s approach?
“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back; in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”—Frederick Beuchner
Genesis 42–46 “Now we must give an accounting for his blood” (Gen. 42:22).Twenty-two years had passed since Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave. When famine drove the brothers to Egypt, and they applied to Egypt’s second most powerful man, they had no idea he was Joseph. Yet it’s clear that none of them have forgotten what they did to Joseph. The question was, Had they changed?
When famine drove Joseph’s half brothers to Egypt to purchase food, they failed to recognize him (42:1–38). On a second visit, bringing Joseph’s full brother Benjamin, Joseph tested them (43:1–44:34). Joseph finally revealed himself to his stunned family (45:1–28). The clan moved to Egypt, where Jacob was reunited with the son he thought was dead (46:1–34).
Understanding the Text
“You are spies” Gen. 42:1–17. When the brothers appeared in Egypt to buy grain, Joseph accused them of being spies. This, and the other things that Joseph did to his brothers, should be understood as tests. Twenty-two years earlier, when Joseph was only 17, his half brothers had sold him as a slave. Joseph wanted to know if the Lord had worked any change in their characters. The tests that Joseph devised showed that God had! “Surely we are being punished because of our brother” Gen. 42:18–38. The brothers were shaken by their brief imprisonment and by the suspicions voiced by Egypt’s ruler. The conviction that they were being punished shows they had never forgotten Joseph’s pleading as they cruelly sold him into slavery. For over two decades they had lived with that memory. People sin lightly, as if doing wrong were no great matter. But once committed, sin’s memory snaps at our heels, burdening us with guilt and shame. Note too Reuben’s statement, “Now we must give an accounting.” It sums up the Old Testament view of sin as (1) a violation of a known standard (2) for which one is accountable (3) and which merits punishment. “Deeply moved” Gen. 43:1–34. This chapter is deeply emotional. We sense Jacob’s anguish at the thought of danger to Rachel’s other son, Benjamin. We sense the brothers’ terror as they faced a return to Egypt, where they were convinced the ruler intended to “seize us as slaves and take our donkeys” (v. 18). Only the prospect of starvation in Canaan forced Jacob to send Benjamin, and compelled the brothers to take the road to Egypt once again. Joseph too was torn by emotion. He could hardly control himself at the sight of his brother, and word of his father. Yet Joseph controlled his emotions not out of necessity but out of wisdom. The test of his brothers was not complete. Joseph still needed to know their hearts. All too often we act from emotion rather than wisdom. It is especially important in dealing with our children to do what is best for them, rather than what our heart tells us. “Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” Gen. 44:1–34. The final test Joseph devised placed unbearable stress on his brothers—but it revealed what Joseph needed to know. How significant it is that Judah is the one who makes the plea recorded in verses 18–34. Years before Judah had been against murdering Joseph, but had been more than willing to sell him as a slave and bring home evidence that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast (cf. 37:26–31). Now Judah offers to become a slave himself in place of young Benjamin, motivated by thought of the anguish that the loss of Benjamin would cause his father! God had worked a real change in the heart of this man who was so calloused just 20 years before. It may seem strange, but realization that we have sinned often launches personal transformation. Guilt is not intended to drive us from God but to Him. Even a person who has something as terrible to look back on as Judah did need not despair. God is the God who forgives sin and who transforms the sinner! Judah’s reaction here offers hope to all who are burdened with memories of past sins. Our past need not determine our future! We can confess our sins to God and, like Judah, we can be changed. “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt” Gen. 45:1–46:34. A stunned Jacob heard the news and realized that before he died he would actually see the lost son he loved so dearly. Emotionally this is the climax of the story of Joseph. In the flow of Genesis, it is not. The historic significance of Joseph is that through his rise from slavery to power, God made it possible for his little family to move to Egypt where they could multiply and become a great people. Yet the joy that echoes in the brothers’ excited announcement of the news that Joseph lived serves as an important reminder. In working out His grand master plan for the ages, God never forgets the individual. He remembers each one of us and truly cares about our joys and our sorrows. I confess that I get tears in my eyes as I read Genesis 45:26–28. I suspect that God, figuratively speaking, had tears in His eyes as He witnessed that scene. Ultimately, God’s most important works are not those He does in shaping history’s flow, but those He does in the hearts of human beings. Transforming a Judah. Bringing a Jacob unexpected joy.
(Gen. 46:1–27) Beersheba lies in southern Canaan. It is a pleasant place, some 974 feet above sea level. Further south, however, one can look down on the Negev and the wilderness of Zin, deserts through which an ancient highway wound its way toward Egypt. In a sense, Beersheba lies on Canaan’s border. To go further south is to leave the Promised Land behind. I suspect this is why Jacob stopped at Beersheba to build an altar and offer sacrifices to God. Jacob was so eager to see Joseph again. The dry and devastated land of Canaan was no longer livable. Yet Jacob stopped at Beersheba. I appreciate Jacob’s wisdom. Many decades before, Abraham, driven by another famine, had hurried on past Beersheba in his rush to reach Egypt (12:10–20)-even though God had placed him in Canaan. Jacob wasn’t about to leave the land in which God placed him, despite strong motives, without stopping at Beersheba to pray. Genesis 46 tells us that there God spoke to Jacob in a vision, and told him not to be afraid to go down to Egypt. There God gave Jacob confirmation that he was doing the right thing. I suspect that this part of the Joseph story provides a model for our own decision-making. We carefully consider our options. We note reasons to do one thing rather than another. On the basis of our information and our desires we “set out.” And this is right. God has given us minds with which to consider and desires that move us toward one goal or another. Our decision-making as Christians should not be mystical, but just as practical and reasoned as was Jacob’s decision to bring his family to Egypt. But, as we set out, we need to be sure we stop at Beersheba. We need to be sensitive to God’s leading and ask the Lord to confirm or to correct us in the direction we’ve chosen to move. The 70 members of Jacob’s family who were united in Egypt could be sure that they were where God wanted them to be. Jacob had stopped at Beersheba. How good it is, as we make important decisions in our lives, to stop at Beersheba and indicate our willingness to continue or turn back at God’s direction. When we stop at Beersheba, we will have the confidence that, whatever happens, we are living in the center of God’s will.
Make decisions carefully. But make it a practice as you act on them to stop at Beersheba.
“Gethsemane teaches us that the kingdom of God is entered only through a denial of one’s own will and the affirmation of the will of God. Therefore, the cross must stand central to an understanding of the kingdom. Since the essence of the kingdom is our obedience to the absolute will of God, we understand it only as we bring our own will to the foot of the cross. No self-will can live unchallenged in God’s kingdom.”—Dennis Corrigan
Genesis 37–41“Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” (Gen. 37:10)
Few Bible characters are as admirable as Joseph. He suffered injustice after injustice, yet persevered. His faith was ultimately rewarded, and Joseph realized that God had used each painful experience to accomplish good.
Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, was hated by his jealous brothers and sold into slavery (37:1–36), even though Joseph’s brothers were far less godly than he (38:1–39:23). God rewarded Joseph’s faithfulness with an ability to interpret dreams (40:1–23), which catapulted Joseph from prison to political power in Egypt (41:1–57).
Understanding the Text
Joseph. Joseph’s faithfulness enabled God to use him greatly. Joseph’s rise to political power in Egypt laid the foundation for the family to move to that land. For some 400 years the Hebrew people stayed there, first as guests and later as slaves. During that span of time the small family of 70 persons grew into millions. In effect, Egypt served as a womb in which God grew the nation which was born through Moses’ ministry. While war after war ravaged Canaan, God’s people were safe in Egypt, free to multiply “greatly” (Ex. 1:7). At the same time, the story of Joseph is the dramatic portrayal of a truly good man who overcame a series of tragedies. Joseph accepted the role of a slave and then of a prisoner, served his masters faithfully, and retained his trust in God. God used each tragedy to place Joseph where Pharaoh would hear of his gifts, invite Joseph to interpret his dreams, and then give Joseph great power and authority. On the one hand the story of Joseph is an inspiring account of a young man whose faith in God is finally rewarded. On the other, it is a reminder that God truly is capable of transforming the “all things” in our experience so that they “work good” (Rom. 8:28). Dreams. Dreams are critical in the story of Joseph. In the Old Testament, dreams may be ordinary (as Job 7:14) or may be means through which God reveals information (as Num. 12:6). Frequently revelatory dreams are symbolic and require interpretation. In other ancient religions, books existed that purported to provide a key for interpreting dreams, just as there are dream books found in modern bookstores! But in Scripture symbolic dreams can only be interpreted by God Himself or a prophet whom He gifts. As Joseph told Pharaoh, “I cannot do it [interpret a dream], but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Gen. 41:16). The role of the interpreter in most of Scripture’s dream stories should warn us against seeking personal guidance through dreams, or taking our dreams as a direct word from the Lord. “A young man of seventeen” Gen. 37:1–11. Life must have seemed exciting to Joseph at 17. He was his father’s favorite. And he dreamed that he would have a great future! Filled with such visions, Joseph was not aware of how his father’s and his own behavior affected his brothers. They were jealous, and when Joseph told them of his dreams, they were angry. We can’t fault a 17-year-old for a lack of wisdom. We can, however, note how important it is to be sensitive to others and to be aware of how what we do and say affects them. “What will we gain?” Gen. 37:12–36 The brothers’ jealousy and anger spilled over when Joseph was sent to find them and their flocks. Most wanted to kill Joseph. But Judah, showing himself one of the better of the brothers, saved Joseph’s life by suggesting he be sold as a slave to a passing caravan of Midianite merchants. None of the brothers except Reuben intended for Joseph to be returned to his father. Only Reuben seemed to care for the anguish the death of Joseph would surely cause their father (cf. vv. 31–35). “Judah” Gen. 38:1–30. Judah applied the moral standards of his culture in his relationship with Tamar, the wife of one of his dead sons, who pretended to be a prostitute. The story suggests just how superior Joseph truly was. Judah seems to have done what he thought was right out of fear (v. 11), and was quick to judge Tamar when he thought she had sinned (v. 24). Joseph, pressured by far greater temptations, did what was right out of respect for God (39:9), and when he was later reunited with the brothers who sold him into slavery, Joseph freely forgave them (cf. 45:4–8). It’s one thing to be “good” by the standards of our culture. It is something else again, out of love for God, to rise above those standards to be truly righteous. Placed side by side, the stories of Judah and Joseph remind us that God uses the person who is totally committed to Him. The Judahs do have roles in God’s plan. But the Josephs find truly significant places! “Sin against God” Gen. 39:9. Our system of law makes a distinction between victim and victimless crimes. The notion is that some crimes, such as assault or theft from a home, create victims. Other criminal acts, such as prostitution or homosexuality, theoretically have no victims. Each person involved is a consenting adult! Joseph was urged to have sex with his master’s wife. She’d keep the secret. Potiphar would never know. Who could possibly be hurt by a little fling? After all, as our movie rating systems suggest, these are the kinds of things “adults” both do and enjoy! Joseph wasn’t fooled. The “victimless” crime was in fact a “sin against God.” Satan eagerly sticks new labels on old sins, trying to confuse humanity and provide us with excuses to do what we know is wrong. It’s important that our vision be as clear as Joseph’s, and that we be as honest with ourselves as Joseph was with Potiphar’s wife. “Two officials” Gen. 40:1–23. The title of “cupbearer” and “baker” were given to two important officials in ancient Egypt. These discoveries by archeologists are two of many which mark Genesis 40–41 as amazingly accurate in its report of practices in Pharaoh’s court. Even a list of convicts in a royal prison, many with Semetic names, has been recovered. The Genesis report is history, not fiction. Joseph, whose life teaches us so many lessons about God, was a real human being, with whose tragedies and triumphs you and I can identify. It’s helpful to make a list of Joseph’s experiences, and to imagine how he must have felt as each event occurred. It’s even more helpful to think back over your own life. Have you had experiences that affected you as the events of Joseph’s life affected him? How good of God to include the stories of men and women like Joseph, to give us insight into what the Lord may be doing in our own lives. Jospeh’s Life
Commitment to right
Forgotten by others
Recognition at last
Forgiving his family
Reunion at last
Egyptian wall paintings show high officials invested with the symbols of authority that Pharaoh gave to Joseph. “God will give Pharaoh the answer” Gen. 41:1–40. When Joseph was called from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, he might have been filled with self-importance. Instead Joseph was careful to give God all credit. Joseph’s words, “I cannot do it . . . but God” (v. 16) are an absolutely accurate reflection of our own spiritual condition. All too many Christian leaders have fallen because they forgot the truth that Joseph remembered. Successes fill us with self-confidence, and all too soon we begin to act as if the achievements for which we are known were our own doing. We need to remember—and to say aloud what Joseph did. Such a confession will point others to God. And such a confession will protect us from the spiritual pride that goes before a fall. “In charge of the whole land” Gen. 41:41–57. Joseph was only 30 when he was made chief official of the land of Egypt. But from age 17 God had placed Joseph in positions where he could develop the needed skills. In Potiphar’s household, and then prison, Joseph was schooled to be an administrator! There is no telling how God intends to use our painful experiences to equip us for significant service in the future. But Genesis reminds us that we must deal with such experiences as Joseph did, remaining positive and making the best of the opportunities we are given. If we follow Joseph’s example, God will be able to promote us too.
“While Joseph Was There in Prison, the Lord Was with Him”(Gen. 39:1–23)
One of the most difficult experiences any of us has to handle is being treated unfairly. Carmine spent untold hours as an adult helping his parents with their business. Yet recently they told Carmine he would be left out of their will in favor of a brother and sister who never helped or seemed to care. Jackie still cries whenever she thinks of the crash that took the life of her 21-year-old son on his wedding night. Don is bitter because he learned that his wife, who treats him and his sons so coldly, has had an affair. Maria has been passed over for promotions in the law office where she works. Younger women who are more attractive than she, are given the promotions, even though she knows more and works harder than they do. Gil, forced to bring a law suit by the persecution of an ex-boss trying to drive him from the field where they both work, is being unmercifully attacked by Christian friends for taking a Christian brother to court. I know each of the five persons I’ve just described personally, though I’ve changed their names. I know how much pain each feels. What hurts each most is that what’s happening to him or her just isn’t fair. Joseph would surely understand, for he was treated unfairly too. In this passage which relates Joseph’s story, we find three principles that could help each one deal with the unfair things in his or her life. (1) Maintain a clear conscience. Joseph resisted Potiphar’s wife’s attempts at seduction. When she lied and had him thrown into prison, Joseph’s conscience was clear. He knew what happened had not been his fault. We can’t stop others from treating us unfairly. But by living good lives we can make sure that what happens to us is not a consequence of our own sin. (2) Keep on doing your best. Prison was very different from the palatial estate Joseph had supervised for Potiphar. But even there Joseph did his best. As a result he was “made responsible for all that was done there.” By doing our best despite life’s unfairness we demonstrate our innocence, and we prepare ourselves for whatever task God may have for us in the future. (3) Practice God’s presence. The Bible says that “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him.” God is with us too even when life seems most unfair and the future bleakest. We can survive and triumph by practicing God’s presence. We do this by remembering He is with us, by prayer, by consciously relying on Him, and by doing our best, aware that we serve the Lord and not man. God does not guarantee that we will never be treated unfairly. But God does guarantee us His presence. If we practice that presence, keep on doing our best, and maintain clear consciences, we will not only survive. Like Joseph, we will triumph.
How is life unfair to you? Are you responding as Joseph did?
O, yet we trust that somehow good will be the final goal of ill, To pangs of nature, sins of will, Defects of doubt, and taints of blood; That nothing walks with aimless feet; That not one life shall be destroy’d Or cast as rubbish to the void, When God hath made the pile complete; That not a worm is cloven in vain; That not a moth with vain desire Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire, Or but subserves another’s gain. Behold, we know not anything; I can but trust that good shall fall At last-far off-at last, to all, And every winter change to spring. -Alfred Lord Tennyson
“I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone” (Gen. 35:3).At last Jacob returned not only to Canaan, but home. His 20 frustrating years with Laban were over, and his feud with his brother Esau had been resolved. It was now, looking back, that Jacob realized how great a role God had played in his life.
Jacob and Esau met and were reconciled (33:1–20). The revenge Simeon and Levi took on the city of a man who raped their sister created new fears for Jacob (34:1–31). God told Jacob to return to Bethel and settle there (35:1–15). Rachel died, but Jacob found his father Isaac (vv. 16–29). The story of the twins closes with a genealogy of Esau and the Edomite nation he founded (36:1–43).
Understanding the Text
“I already have plenty” Gen. 33:1–20. The terrified Jacob was stunned when Esau welcomed him joyfully. Should we credit Esau with a generous and forgiving spirit? Not really. Esau had always been a materialist, unable to see any benefit in the spiritual. This attitude was displayed years before when Esau “despised” God’s covenant promise by trading his birthright for a bowl of stew (25:29–34). Esau had been furious at Jacob’s theft of their father’s blessing, but only because he wanted the family heritage of material wealth. When, after Jacob’s flight, Esau actually did become rich, his anger faded. To Esau it seemed that Jacob had fled penniless, with nothing but some meaningless promise from an invisible God. The statement, “I have plenty,” sums up Esau’s view. Why be angry? Jacob had gotten nothing of real value. In earthly riches Esau had everything he had ever valued or desired! How different for Jacob. Jacob expected his brother to be furious because the covenant promises of God were the most important thing in Jacob’s life! In a sense, God blessed both Esau and Jacob. Each brother received what he wanted most in life. But only Jacob’s choice had eternal value. Rape and revenge Gen. 34:1–31. Dinah’s brothers were right to be “filled with grief and fury” when she was raped. Yet when the young man of Shechem asked permission to marry Dinah, he was acting honorably according to the customs of that time. Certainly the brothers of Dinah were wrong to take revenge on an entire city for the act of one of its citizens. Jacob, whose fears had been relieved by reconciliation with Esau, now had a new worry. Would the other Canaanites attack his family because his sons had taken such bloody revenge? Like Jacob’s, our life is never completely free of stress. One anxiety is relieved only to be replaced by a new one. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). We need a peace that has a source beyond this world, a peace that is unshaken by what happens to us here. Death and reunion Gen. 35:16–29. The text only touches on highlights of the next few years of Jacob’s life. Rachel, who had wept over her childless state, died giving birth to Benjamin (vv. 16–20). Jacob’s eldest son had an affair with one of his father’s concubines (v. 22). Jacob and Esau buried their father and mourned together (vv. 27–29). Pain, anger, disappointment, reconciliation, and loss—all these are a heritage we share with Jacob as human beings. Only relationship with God and confidence in His promises can make this life, with its mingled joys and sorrows, meaningful. “The account of Esau” Gen. 36:1–43. Genealogies were especially important to God’s Old Testament people. They provided a sense of continuity, enabling each generation to understand its identity by tracing its roots. Genealogies enabled the Hebrew people to trace those roots back to Abraham, and thus validate their claim to be God’s chosen people, inheritors of His promise to that patriarch. But why trace the line of Esau so carefully? Esau is not in the promised line. He even turned his back on the promise, considering it of no value at all. Perhaps the genealogy of Esau serves as an important reminder that those outside the household of God must not be ignored or written off as unimportant. Every individual has worth and value in God’s sight, and is to be valued by us. The 91 strangers named in this genealogy are meaningless to us, but no person is unimportant to God.
“Settle There, and Build an Altar”(Gen. 35:1–15)
Jacob’s return to Bethel, the “house of God,” was special. It was there God had first spoken to him. Now Bethel was to become a refuge. Three things in the text establish Bethel as a refuge: The altar, which speaks of worship (vv. 3, 7); the repeated promise, which speaks of God’s presence (vv. 9–13); and the stone pillar, which speaks of remembrance (vv. 14–15). (1) Worship is essential if you and I are to find inner peace in a troubled world. Like Jacob, we need a time and place set aside especially to meet with God. We need to settle there—to be consistent in keeping a daily appointment with the Lord. Jacob told his family to “get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.” In worship we clear our hearts and minds of everything that competes with God for our attention, and focus completely on Him. Perhaps the best definition of worship is “expressing appreciation to God for who He by nature is.” That is, we think about God’s qualities, His attributes, His loving acts, and we praise Him for who and what He is. Our Bethel is daily worship. There we begin to experience the peace that Jacob found. (2) God’s presence is experienced as we hear His voice speaking to us. This is what Jacob experienced at Bethel (vv. 9, 11). This is what you and I experience today as we open the Scriptures and read, not for new information alone, but to hear and respond to what God has to say to us personally. In God’s Word we hear His promises, sense His guidance, find His empowering. Our Bethel is Scripture, for in the Word we sense the presence of the One who met with Jacob at Bethel so long ago. (3) Remembrance is the way we reenter the presence of God at any moment throughout the day. The stone pillar that Jacob erected at biblical Bethel is best understood as a zikkaron. In the Old Testament a zikkaron is any object or religious celebration intended to help a believer identify with God’s active presence in history. Whenever Jacob saw the stone pillar, he was carried back in memory to the fellowship with God he experienced at that place. The Bethel you and I create by worship and by reading Scripture serves as an anchor for our day. At any moment we can return in memory and find fresh strength. How important that we apply to ourselves the words God spoke to Jacob: “Go up to Bethel: and settle there.”
Select a time and place where you can meet daily with God.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done. Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts. Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced.-Psalm 105:1–5