The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 13

Reading 13

WAIT AND SEE

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?

Overview

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.

DEVOTIONAL

Beersheba

(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.

Personal Application

Make decisions carefully. But make it a practice as you act on them to stop at Beersheba.

Quotable

“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

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 12

Reading 12

JOSEPH

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.

Overview

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

Happy childhoodGen. 37:1–3
Jealous brothersGen. 37:4–11
MistreatmentGen. 37:12–36
Faithful serviceGen. 39:1–6
Commitment to rightGen. 39:7–10
Unfair treatmentGen. 39:11–20
Hard workGen. 39:21–23
Helping othersGen. 40:1–22
Forgotten by othersGen. 40:23
Unique opportunityGen. 41:1–40
Recognition at lastGen. 41:41–57
Success/achievementGen. 41–50
Forgiving his familyGen. 45
Reunion at lastGen. 46

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.

DEVOTIONAL

“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.

Personal Application

How is life unfair to you? Are you responding as Joseph did?

Quotable

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

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 11

Reading 11

A PLACE TO SETTLE Genesis 33–36

“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.

Overview

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.

DEVOTIONAL

“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.”

Personal Application

Select a time and place where you can meet daily with God.

Quotable

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

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 10

Reading 10

THE DECEIVER DECEIVED

Genesis 29–32 “Your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times” (Gen. 31:7).Sometimes we must be put in the place of the cheated to realize why God calls us to live a truly godly life.

Overview

Jacob found his relatives, and married two sisters, Rachel and Leah (29:1–35). Jealousy and conflict marred Jacob’s home, but his flocks increased (30:1–43). Finally Jacob took his family and herds and fled his uncle Laban, the deceitful father-in-law who “changed my wages ten times” (31:1–55). Free of his oppressive uncle at last, Jacob fearfully prepared to meet Esau. At this critical moment Jacob met and wrestled with God, and his name was changed to Israel (32:1–32).

Understanding the Text

“Laban had two daughters” Gen. 29:1–30:24. Jacob’s marriage to two sisters, and acceptance of their servants as concubines (secondary wives), was not immoral by the standards of his culture. Yet the conflict in Jacob’s home suggests how wise it is to adopt monogamous marriage, as God intended. Each major character in this passage is worthy of careful consideration. Laban. Laban was willing to use his own daughters and anyone else to gain his own ends. In Laban, Jacob, who had acted the same way earlier, met his match! Jacob. Jacob proved to be a hard worker. He served Laban seven years to win his wife, Rachel, only to be tricked by Laban, who substituted Leah on the wedding night. Married to both, Jacob knew no peace, for the two sisters became rivals for his affection. In their competition to produce children, Rachel and Leah even forced Jacob to add their two maids, Bilhah and Zilpah, to his roster of wives. The deceiver had been deceived, and found himself the focus of family strife! Earlier Jacob had sung, “I’ll do it my way.” Now he faced the music! Leah. Unlovely and unloved, Leah tried desperately to win Jacob’s affection by giving him sons. She was jealous of her beautiful sister Rachel, and even though Leah bore Jacob six sons, she was never able to find happiness. Rachel. Beautiful and loved by Jacob, Rachel was miserable because she was childless. She urged Jacob to sleep with Bilhah, as in that culture the sons of a servant girl were considered to be children of her mistress. Each person strived for something he or she did not have, rather than seeking contentment in God’s gifts. Rachel could have been happy in Jacob’s love, but was jealous of her sister’s fertility. Leah could have found satisfaction in her sons, but yearned for Jacob’s love. Laban could have valued people rather than wealth, and would have been loved by them all. Jacob could have taken a stand against his father-in-law and his wives, but allowed each of the others to bully or take advantage of him. Yet, despite their flaws, God used each of these individuals to create a family that would become the channel of His blessing to the world. And, despite the dissatisfaction each felt, each truly was blessed. How we need to accept ourselves and our limitations. How we need to rejoice in what we have, rather than make ourselves and others miserable in pursuit of what we do not have. Jacob’s flocks Gen. 30:1–43. On the surface Jacob’s use of striped sticks while the herds of Laban mated appears to be sympathetic magic. This concept, common to ancient and modern systems of magic, assumes that any object can influence another to look or be like it. Yet this was not magic. Certainly Jacob gave God the credit when the recessive genes present in the animals became dominant, and the herds produced a majority of the dark, spotted, or speckled animals which Laban agreed would belong to Jacob (cf. 31:4–13). God works comfortably within nature, turning “natural” events to His purposes. God worked through the genetic codes already present in the herds Jacob supervised. He is at work in the natural circumstances of our lives as well. “Does he not regard us as foreigners?” Gen. 31:1–21 By ancient custom Jacob had probably been adopted by Laban. Jacob, his wives, and his children were considered to “belong to” Laban, the patriarch of the family (cf. 31:43). Yet after 20 years Laban had so mistreated Jacob’s family that his daughters were ready to follow Jacob to Canaan. They had no confidence that Laban would care for their children, for he treated his daughters like foreigners rather than family. “I am sending this message” Gen. 32:1–21. Jacob fled from an oppressive uncle toward a brother whom he thought hated him. What an uncertain time in his life! Jacob did the best he could to prepare for the meeting. He sent a messenger, so his return would not be a surprise (vv. 1–8). He prayed, reminding God of His promises (vv. 9–12). And he sent rich gifts on ahead (vv. 13–21). This last act was not bribery, but reflects the custom of giving gifts to persons whose favor one wished to obtain. By giving such gifts Jacob implied that he saw his brother as his superior. When we find ourselves in uncertain circumstances, we would be wise to follow Jacob’s prescription. We need to rely on God, to do all we can, and to remain humble before others. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel” Gen. 32:22–32. Jacob’s old name meant “supplanter.” His new name, Israel, meant “struggler with God.” While the wrestling match described here is intended literally, it clearly has figurative significance. Jacob had struggled all his life, trying one scheme after another to make his way. But now Jacob struggled to gain God’s blessing. With the blessing won, Jacob was given a new name to mark his internal transformation. Like Jacob we need to stop struggling to make our way in our own strength, and struggle instead to rely wholly on God. As Jacob illustrates, this does not mean we sit back and do nothing. It does, however, mean a change of attitude. Our confidence is to rest in the Lord, not in ourselves. The household gods Rachel stole (31:22–55) probably looked like these statues, from about 1800B.C Rachel’s theft was intended as insurance against the future. In that age possession of the household gods constituted a claim against the family estate.

DEVOTIONAL

“This Message”(Gen. 32:1–21)

It may seem strange, but Jacob’s evident fear of Esau is a mark of personal growth. Psychologists label Jacob’s early problem “egocentrism.” By this they mean seeing things only from one’s own perspective, being unaware of the perspective of others. In his early years Jacob schemed to steal his brother’s birthright and blessing, unconcerned about how these acts might affect his brother and their relationship. Jacob and his mother actually seemed surprised at Esau’s anger. They had never even thought of how Esau might react to being victimized! Twenty years later, however, Jacob himself had been the victim of a scheme. Laban had been as unfair to him as he had been to Esau! Now Jacob had experienced many of the feelings Esau must have known, feelings experienced by all who are victims—frustration, helplessness, and anger. At last Jacob could identify with his brother Esau, and understand how his own actions must have made Esau feel. And because he understood, Jacob was afraid. No one deserves to be treated as he had treated Esau, or as he himself had now been treated. Such treatment arouses anger and deserves punishment. All too often we Christians also fall into the trap of egocentrism. We may speak or act self-righteously, completely unaware of how our tone affects others. We strive to reach some good goal, yet we often are ignorant of how our methods hurt others. God made Jacob sensitive to the feelings of the brother he had victimized by making Jacob himself a victim. I suspect that sometimes God uses the same prescription in dealing with us. When we are hurt it is often a reflection of the way we hurt others, a not-so-gentle reminder that God has charged us with the duty of loving others as we love ourselves. It would be wonderful if you and I could be naturally sensitive to others. But this is an attitude we must develop. The promise and the warning are both clear in Jacob’s life. The promise is that even unlikely individuals like Jacob can become persons who understand and consider others. The warning is that if we live ego-centristic lives, taking advantage of others, God may place us in positions where we experience the very pain we have caused others to suffer.

Personal Application

If we consider the feelings of others, we will make wiser as well as more godly choices.

Quotable

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light; and Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. -St. Francis of Assisi

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 9

Reading 9

RUSHING AHEAD OF GOD Genesis 25:19–28:22

“Look, I am about to die. . . . What good is the birthright to me?” (Gen. 25:32)Unlike his twin Esau, Jacob placed a high value on God’s covenant promise. But Jacob showed little spiritual sensitivity as he schemed and lied unnecessarily to obtain what God was already committed to give him. In rushing ahead of God rather than waiting on the Lord, Jacob brought pain and alienation to his family.

Overview

Before the birth of her twin sons God told Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, that the older twin would serve the younger (25:19–26). Esau, the older, sold his birthright—his right to inherit the covenant God made with Abraham—to his younger brother Jacob (vv. 27–34). Isaac’s experience shows how vital the birthright is (26:1–35). Years later Jacob and his mother schemed to steal Esau’s blessing, through which the birthright would be transmitted (27:1–40). This antagonized Esau and forced Jacob to flee (27:41–28:9). At Bethel Jacob had his first direct personal experience with the God of the covenant, and committed himself to serve the Lord (vv. 10–22).

Understanding the Text

Isaac. Less is told of Isaac than any other patriarch. He is significant primarily as the bridge between his father Abraham and his son Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel. Personally Isaac seems to have been a rather indecisive and passive person, without great spiritual insight. These traits are seen in his flight from conflict with Abimelech, and in his preference of Esau because he “had a taste for wild game” (25:28). Even though Isaac was overshadowed by both his father and his son, Isaac experienced God’s grace, and at the end faith triumphed over personal preference as he acknowledged God’s choice of Jacob over Esau and confirmed transmission of the covenant promises to his younger son. “The older will serve the younger” Gen. 25:19–26. Romans 9 emphasizes the importance of God’s statement to Rebekah before her twin sons were born. God’s choice of Jacob, the younger, to inherit His covenant promise was made before the boys were born. This showed that the choice did not depend on what either did. God is free to choose as He wills. The fact that Esau proved to be uninterested in spiritual things shows how wise God’s choices are. “What good is the birthright?” Gen. 25:27–34 The firstborn son had the right to inherit most of his father’s property and also any intangible possessions, such as title or position. Here the “birthright” that Esau sold so lightly included his natural right as eldest to the covenant promise of God. Archeological finds have shown that in patriarchal times the eldest son could and sometimes did sell his birthright. In selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, Esau showed how unimportant he considered God’s promises to be. The word “despise” here (bazah) means to “place little value on” something and actually implies contempt. Jacob’s character was flawed, yet he did value his relationship with God. God can work with people who see Him as important, despite their weaknesses. God could not work with Esau, for Esau had no place in his thinking for God. “The Lord appeared to Isaac” Gen. 26:1–34. The story in this chapter might seem to be a digression. But it is vital in developing Moses’ theme. Isaac possessed the covenant promises that Esau despised. What value did the covenant really have? First, God’s guidance (vv. 1–6). The Lord appeared to Isaac and directed him to stay in Canaan rather than go to Egypt. He stayed in Canaan, on coastal land then occupied by the Philistines. Second, God’s protection (vv. 7–11). Even though Isaac showed the same lack of active faith that led Abraham to lie about his wife in fear that he might be killed for her, God protected Isaac and his family. The “Abimelech” here is not the person Abraham lied to a century or so earlier. Most believe the name is a title, like Pharaoh. In Hebrew the name means “my father is king.” Third, the covenant assured God’s blessing (vv. 12–22). God made Isaac rich, multiplying his wealth. Fourth, God’s intervention (vv. 23–35). When land and water rights disputes drove Isaac to move again and again, God spoke to him, urging him not to fear. The Philistines finally made a treaty with Isaac because “we saw clearly that the Lord was with you.” In each of these incidents we see—and Esau and Jacob would have observed—how important possession of God’s covenant promise truly was. With the covenant came God’s commitment to guide, to protect, to bless, and to intervene. Spiritual realities seem irrelevant to some. But in fact they are far more important than anything the materialist can touch, see, or feel. Isaac’s blessing Gen. 27:1–40. In ancient cultures blessings given by parents or by one in authority were viewed as having great power. The deathbed blessing was equivalent to a last will, by which a person transmitted his tangible and intangible possessions to the next generation. Thus Isaac’s blessing was eagerly sought by Esau and jealously desired by Jacob. Jacob and his mother panicked when Isaac announced he was about to give Esau his blessing. They plotted together to deceive Isaac and to steal the blessing by passing Jacob off as his older brother. They did succeed in deceiving a then sightless Isaac. But they alienated Esau so greatly that he determined to kill Jacob after Isaac died! The tragic thing about this story is that their deceit was unnecessary! Before the boys’ birth God had announced to Rebekah that He intended to exalt her younger son over the older (25:23). Panic drove Rebekah and Jacob to lie and cheat to obtain something that God had promised He would give them! How foolish to run ahead of God. Our situation is never so bleak that we have to adopt wrong or sinful means in a desperate effort to achieve good ends! “Esau then realized” Gen. 28:1–9. Esau was not a bad person. He was simply one of those human beings whose eyes are so filled with images of this world that they cannot glimpse spiritual realities. After Jacob was sent (fled) to Paddan Aram to find a bride among relatives, it finally dawned on Esau that his parents were less than delighted with his Canaanite wives. In an effort to please them, he found another wife from among Ishmael’s descendants. How touching, and yet how tragic. Esau did do the best he could. Yet his choice of Canaanite wives had been a symptom of his spiritual insensitivity, not the cause of his rejection. We can find admirable traits in those who have no concern for God. Yet however they try, they will always fall short. Their self-effort itself shows how little they know of Abraham’s God. “I am the Lord” Gen. 28:10–22. Jacob had seen the importance of a relationship with God in his father Isaac’s experience. He had been aware of the value of the spiritual. Now, however, Jacob himself had a personal experience with the Lord. At Bethel (which means “house of God”) the Lord confirmed transmission of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob (vv. 13–15; cf. 12:1–3, 7). Jacob’s words, “If God will be with me” (28:20–22), are not a bargain struck with God. They are instead a faith response to God. Since God has committed Himself to Jacob and will surely carry out His promises, then Jacob will be committed to the Lord. Jacob’s words are significant to us in two ways. First, Jacob shows us the basic benefits of a personal relationship with God (vv. 20–21). God is with us. He watches over us on our life journey. He provides the basic necessities. He gives us others with whom we can have a family relationship. Second, Jacob shows us the basic response that is appropriate. We honor the Lord as God. We set aside times and places to worship Him. And we express our commitment by giving.

DEVOTIONAL

“And Indeed He Will Be Blessed”(Gen. 27:1–33)

This is one of those Bible stories in which we generally focus on one character, and ignore the others. In this tale of the trickster, we give our attention to Jacob and perhaps to his mother, Rebekah, who schemed with him. Sometimes we think about Esau, whose tears and anger are both so understandable. Seldom do we look at Isaac. Yet I suspect that Isaac is the one who learned most from the incident, and is the only one who acted with faith and nobility. You see, Isaac had always favored his son Esau. Esau was the out doors man, the athlete. He was, if you will, the “jock”; the virile athletic type his dad had always wanted, and perhaps had always wanted to be. Jacob, a mama’s boy, just wasn’t the kind of son that a dad dreamed of! Jacob was the kind who’d rather play the piano than baseball; who’d rather go to some museum than hunt or fish. And so, because Isaac was so drawn to his older son, he was blind to Esau’s weaknesses, and unable to see Jacob’s strengths. In fact, for some 40 years Isaac had been blind to the fact that Esau cared nothing for God, and that Jacob did at least value God’s blessing. Up to the very end Isaac persisted in his opinion. Up to the very end Isaac intended Esau to inherit the divine promise. And then Isaac was tricked into pronouncing his blessing on Jacob! When he found out he had been tricked, Isaac might have been angry. He might have withdrawn the blessing and replaced it with a curse! Instead, Isaac finally realized that for all those years he had been wrong! He realized that God intended Jacob to have the blessing and that Jacob at least cared about covenant relationship with Isaac’s God. Realizing all this, Isaac acted in faith and with nobility. He confirmed the blessing he had just uttered, telling Esau, “and indeed he will be blessed.” You and I need to be as open and noble as Isaac proved to be. How willing we need to be, especially in our own families, to examine our attitudes—toward our spouses, our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters. If we have judged others on superficial criteria, we need to be ready with Isaac to acknowledge our mistake. As Isaac shows us, it’s never too late to change. Personal Application

It is especially important to be realistic about our children and to value each one for his or her special qualities. Lord, help us to be as open and noble as Isaac proved to be.

Quotable

I walked a mile with Pleasure She chatted all the way, But left me none the wiser For all she had to say. I walked a mile with Sorrow And ne’er a word said she; But, oh, the things I learned from her When Sorrow walked with me! -Robert Browning

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