Friday, January 29, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 29 - The Comfort and Kindness of Forgiveness

Not only did Jacob's passing lead to the mourning that is customary for the loss of a loved one, it also created fear in the hearts of his sons. Concerned that Joseph only forgave them on Jacob's behalf, the sons of Jacob feared that after his passing Joseph would reveal his true colors and pay them back for all the evil they did to him. So, the brothers went to Joseph and told him that their father's dying wish was for Joseph to continue to show forgiveness to them. Whether Jacob actually said this or not is never explained, but what is clear is that such a dramatic plea was unnecessary.
But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen. 50:19-21)
Joseph was a tenderhearted man, and as the text repeatedly notes, he was often moved to tears (50:17; cf. 42:24; 45:1-2). Reflective of such a spirit is the way Joseph forgave his brothers. In 50:19-21 I see several great lessons:

1) Forgiveness begins with the recognition that there is a God, and it ain't me. "Am I in the place of God?" Joseph asked. Vengeance belongs to God (Rom. 12:19), not to us. Further, as Joseph pointed out, the actions of his brother were evil toward him, but from God's perspective, they led to the salvation of Israel. We can never truly forgive others until we see things from a God-centered rather than self-centered point of view.

2) Forgiveness should comfort the offender. Forgiveness is not just about a sense of vindication for the offended - it is also about the restoration of the offender. Joseph did not want his brothers to be afraid, and to make sure of this he "comforted them and spoke kindly to them." When someone is broken enough to ask forgiveness, they are also fragile enough for the Devil to wound, to crush their spirit. That vulnerability is dangerous, and so that the Devil cannot exploit it for his purposes, the one who was offended must work to reassure the offender of God's grace. Paul told the Corinthians to forgive someone who had caused him pain so that he would not be "overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him...What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs" (2 Cor. 2:7-11).

3) Forgiveness should bear fruits worthy of forgiveness. Not only did Joseph speak kindly, he acted kindly, fulfilling his promise: "I will provide for you and your little ones." True forgiveness seeks to treat the offender as if the offense had never taken place, and indeed to treat them even better than before the offense occurred. This is how God forgives us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-7)
God forgave us "so that...he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us"! He is the ultimate "show off!" And what He desires to show off is just how giving and kind He is, to people who in no way deserve reprieve, much less riches.

Daily Bible Reading - January 28 - For You I Wait All the Day Long

(Sorry this is going up so late-just got back from a whirlwind trip up to see my Granny).

Today's reading describes the settlement of Jacob and his family in the land of Goshen, and the blessing that he and his son Joseph were to Egypt (Gen. 47-48). One detail I had not thought about before was the note in 47:28 that Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years. Jacob and Joseph were able to enjoy many years together after all that time apart. What a blessing it must have been!

Joseph is a great example of the virtue described in today's reading from the psalms - waiting on the Lord. Psalm 25:5 says:
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Joseph waited many long days and nights, but even though his fellow prisoners forgot about him (Gen. 40:23), God never did. Joseph waited, God acted, and he was blessed.

Most of us will never go through anything approaching the trials of Joseph, or those of David (who wrote Psalm 25). But all of us go through challenges that require steadfastness, the determination to wait on God and trust His way rather than to rashly pursue our own goals by our own methods. David and Joseph could wait because they trusted God - "You ARE the God of my salvation." And our patience in waiting will always correspond to the depth of our trusting.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 27 - A Good While

Several years ago when I lived in Chicagoland I went to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with some friends. There were some aspects of the show I really liked (great music, great performance by Donny Osmond), but there were some features of the show I found irritating (the name of God is never, ever mentioned!). I guess it was about what I expected from a Broadway version of a Bible story.

However, there was one scene I really enjoyed - the reunion of Joseph and Jacob. The thing I liked most about the way it was done was the bare simplicity of the moment. There was no dialogue, no music. Just a long embrace.

It is hard not to get a lump in the throat when you read Genesis 46:29 - "[Joseph] presented himself to [Jacob] and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while." The understated emotion of the text is powerful. For years (at least 19 years, compare 39:2 with 41:46 and 45:6), Jacob believed his favored son was the victim of a grisly attack by wild animals. And for as many years Joseph wondered about his father's well-being. After two decades of grief and worry, father and son were back together.

This account is also evocative of other father-son stories in Scripture. Think of David's relationship with Absalom, in which David refused to immediately embrace his son after his return from exile. What role did that play in Absalom's subsequent rebellion? Or, on the other hand, think about the Parable of the Prodigal and the eager embrace of the father who welcomed the wasteful son back home.

But most of all, the story of Jacob and Joseph makes me think of the scene in Revelation 21, where the heavenly Father comes down to the new heavens and earth to be with His people. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 21:4). How great it will be to rest in the embrace of our Father "a good while."

Daily Bible Reading - January 26 - Judah's Transformation

Today's Bible reading (or yesterday's, depending on when you read this!) contains the third of three speeches by Judah in Genesis. The first was in Gen. 37, when he pointed out that murdering Joseph would not be profitable, and that he should be sold into slavery for a price instead. The second was in Gen. 38, the squalid account where Judah tried to get out of giving a third son to Tamar to provide her with an heir. Judah's speech there at first consisted of a demand for Tamar to be executed for prostitution - until he realized that he was one of her customers! That led him to confess, "She is more righteous than I." Progress!

The third and most moving statement of Judah's is in Gen. 44. It is in that text that Judah begged Joseph to spare Benjamin from servitude, and to allow him to take his place instead. It was a speech that deeply moved Joseph, and which demonstrated tremendous transformation in the character of Judah.

The stories of the patriarchs are tough for me to read sometimes because the men were so deeply flawed. Reuben slept with one of his father's concubines. Levi and Simeon brutally massacred the people of Shechem. And Judah tried to defraud Tamar. But the stories are also encouraging, because they show how God can change deeply flawed people, which means a lot to a deeply flawed person like me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - January 25 - Slow to Believe

It is surely no coincidence that just as there were twelve sons of Israel there were twelve apostles of Jesus. The twelve patriarchs were the foundation of national Israel just as the twelve apostles were the foundation of spiritual Israel. So it has been very interesting to read the narratives of Joseph's relationship with the sons of Israel (Gen. 41-42) in juxtaposition with Mark's account of Jesus' relationship with the apostles, especially in today's reading in Mark 16.

The thread that connects these two passages is the failure to recognize. In the case of the sons of Jacob, it is their failure to recognize Joseph as the governor over the land distributing grain. Of course, they could hardly be blamed for this. When they last saw him he was a seventeen-year-old Hebrew boy sold into slavery, and by Gen. 41-42 he was a thirty-year-old Egyptian man serving as Pharaoh's number two man.

In the case of the apostles in Mark 16, their failure was to recognize the truth about Jesus' resurrection. This failure is much more difficult to excuse. Not only had Jesus explicitly told them - three times! - that He was going to die and be raised from the dead (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), but multiple eyewitnesses told the apostles they had seen the empty tomb and the risen Lord (16:9-13). Yet the disciples were slow to accept this truth, and were rebuked by Jesus for "their unbelief and hardness of heart" (16:14).

Yet it seems to me that both groups of twelve deserve a lot of credit. Joseph's brothers were grieved at the memory of what they did to their brother, and fully accepted responsibility for their actions, a change of heart which deeply touched Joseph long before he revealed himself to them (Gen. 42:21-24). And the great thing about the apostles is that immediately after Jesus rebuked them, they accepted His commission to go and take His gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15-16). God can work with people who are humble enough to admit their mistakes.

Most impressive in these accounts, however, is the gracious spirit of Joseph and Jesus. Both were willing to forgive people who had viciously betrayed them. Indeed, both of them displayed grace to those who offended them even before there was actual reconciliation. Joseph gave his brothers grain, returned their money, and even supplied them with provisions (Gen. 42:25). And Jesus told the disciples in the garden that they would scatter in fear, but that He would see them again in Galilee (Mark 14:26-28).

In the world in which we all live, we have plenty of opportunities to learn from the twelve, and from Joseph/Jesus. The nature of life in a sinful world means that we all have moments of hardness of heart, of reluctance to belief what God intends for us to believe, and so we all have many occasions to experience God's grace as He forgives us for our stubbornness. And a world like ours is one where others will hurt us, and like Joseph and Jesus, there is no lack of opportunity to show others the same grace, patience, and mercy that we have been shown.