Reap What You Sow. Genesis 37:18 - 36 August 15, 2006
The events in Genesis chapter thirty-seven are among the significant events of any single chapter in Scripture, other than chapters related to the crucifixion of Christ and one or two other chapters related to the covenants. This is one of the most significant and pivotal times in all of history because this chapter begins with Joseph in the land with his brothers, with his father, in his home, and enjoying the blessings of this land that God has promised to give to Abraham and his descendants, but at the end of the chapter he is a slave in Egypt. So the chapter itself is almost a picture of what is going to happen to Israel starting in the land and ending up as slaves in Egypt, and that God is preparing them for the future. We can say in short that the chapter provides a transition for the family of Abraham from the land of promise to the land of protection.
In going to Egypt they are going to a place of adversity and hostility, a place where they are enslaved for several hundred years, a place where there are many abuses that are going to take place. So why is that a place of protection? That is the whole point of their being taken there. God recognizes what has happened to them where they are in the land of Canaan—they have begun to have deteriorated so much and begin to be influenced so much by the thinking of the cosmic system around them at that time, the Canaanite culture, the fertility religions, etc.—and that in order to bring about His planned purposes for the descendants of Israel He has to take them out of the land and put them down into an incubator, as it were, so that the nation can grow to a size where He can then take it back to the land. So Egypt, then, becomes a place of protection to protect them from themselves. Sometimes God has to do that with each one of us, He has to protect us from our own negative volition and our own sin nature, and so we see a picture in this passage of how that happens. God in His infinite knowledge knows exactly what He is doing and He is always working things out to bring about His desired goal.
When we are studying Joseph we recognize that his life is an important thread because God is taking that thread and is producing through it a new rope in history. He is going to take the thread of the line of Abraham and through it is going to build a nation that He is establishing in the world that has a vital role because He is going to reveal Himself to all mankind through this nation. They are going to be the custodians of divine revelation. They are the only ones responsible for receiving, recording and preserving divine revelation. Furthermore, it is through this group of people that God is going to bring about redemption for everybody on the plant—for all of mankind. When we look at what is about to happen with Joseph as an individual—just as it often does with us as we go through undeserved suffering, some sort of crisis or adversity—we have to trust God. What are the dynamics of this trust of God that is ultimately being exemplified in Joseph? And Joseph is also learning while he is going through this because God is taking this seventeen-year-old and is going to prepare him to be one of the greatest leaders in all of history. Leaders aren't just born, they are trained, developed, prepared. So we see this process here of how God is going to develop Joseph as a leader and first and foremost He has to develop him in his character and mature him in his relationship with God. That is the same thing God does with each of us. He has to mature us, prepare us, to make us useable in His plan.
As we look at this well-known episode of Joseph being rejected by his brothers, their conspiracy against him to take him and make it appear as if he has been killed by wild animals and then they sell him into slavery, there are four basic doctrinal themes that come to the surface here.
What of the things we need to look at is how to interpret Scripture in a biblical framework so that we move from understanding certain episodes and yet going to these episodes to be a source of comfort and strength to us when we are going through adversity and difficulty. We need to learn to think in terms of basic categories of doctrine, and when we think of suffering and undeserved suffering we should have certain things that are stories and episodes in the Old Testament that come to mind. And when we are going through this we stop and reflect upon those situations of undeserved suffering. There are three key episodes in the Old Testament that help us think through undeserved suffering. The first is the one that everybody thinks of and that is Job. Job basically teaches us that whatever we are going through in life fits within the pattern of an overall angelic conflict. We have no idea how what we go through relates to that broad angelic conflict. Job starts off with Satan challenging God, and God says, "Have you looked at my servant Job?" The interesting thing about Job chapters one and two is that Satan isn't the one who focuses on Job. God is the one who brought Job up. God is the one who asks, "Have you looked at Job?" So He is the one who is behind this and we fit that into the category of testing, that God is going to allow Job to be tested in such a way in order to demonstrate certain truths, not only because they are going top relate to his own spiritual growth but they are going to be used by millions of Christians to learn about undeserved suffering down through the ages. So we think of Job in terms of the fact that we may never know the answers to the whys and the wherefores of our suffering. Job never did. God never answers the questions that Job asked, and we are privy to what is going on in chapters one and two but Job wasn't when he went through it, and he has to learn to trust God. As he says about half way through the book, "Even though he slay me, yet will I trust him." No matter what we go through we are still going to trust God.
Joseph has to learn this principle when he is in the pit/cistern waiting for these Midianite traders to make a deal with his brothers. And he is taken away, never to see his family again, he thinks, to be a slave in Egypt. He has to think in terms of "I am going to trust God, even though my life seems to have turned into just one chaotic mess and I am never going to get what (whatever it was) I thought I was going to get."
Another book we think of is Ruth. Ruth is about turning cursing (suffering and adversity) into blessing. Ruth is not about Ruth, it is all about Naomi. The first chapter is all about the bitterness of Naomi, and then she returns to the land, Ruth, her daughter-in-law sticks with her, and there she informs Ruth that there is a man who is an extended relative and has this right to take her as his wife. At the end of the book it returns to Naomi and it is the blessing for Naomi because her children are raised up to her family's name, and so it goes from cursing in Naomi at the beginning of the book to the end. We think in terms of how God is working in the circumstances.
The first of four doctrines pertinent here relates to undeserved relates to undeserved suffering. Why do the good suffer? Why is there undeserved suffering in the world. The psalmist says, Why is it that the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper? Why is it that Joseph goes through this suffering, hostility, hardship, rejection? He had been a man of honor and virtue fulfilling the wishes and desires of his father. He may have been a little boastful in his naivety when God gave him the dream related to his future prominence over the brothers but that isn't given as a fault, it is more his youthful, naïve enthusiasm that he did this. All we see is the reaction and hostility of the brothers.
So we have to address the issue of undeserved suffering, and part of that leads to the second doctrinal theme that works itself out and displays itself in this chapter: the outworking of divine discipline, and in this case it is related to the failure of this family. The key element to remember in chapter 37 is that of deception. The brothers are angry so they get together and plot against Joseph, and they are going to deceive their father with respect to what happened to Joseph. Jacob is just going to get a taste of his own medicine. Jacob deceived his father in order to gain the inheritance and the blessing. This whole idea of the inheritance and the blessing is a key element in why the brothers are so angry with Joseph and want to do away with him because it appears that Joseph is the one who is going to get the double portion and the inheritance. The principle that we are going to see worked out here is found in Galatians 6:7-8, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows [what we do in life brings about certain consequences], that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
The third doctrinal theme that we see here is how God works out the details, not only to bring discipline into the family for their lies, murders and deceptions, but how He uses that to bring about His desired glory. As we look at this we need to think about what Joseph is going through. He has been sold by his brothers into slavery. They have done nothing right and he has done everything right, and he is the one who is being surrounded by evil people. As we observe this episode we know that God is working behind the scenes. God isn't mentioned. The same thing happens in our lives. We ask where God is when all this is happening and yet what we must understand from the Scriptures is that God is at work behind the scenes whether we recognize it, understand it, or not. In the midst of all these threads that are happening in history we know that above everything, in a different way from what we think, that God is in control of the details of life. At the same time, not only is He bringing about His purposes in history with all these different people with their own volition trying to do their own thing in rebellion against Him, but He is being attacked by Satan who is ranting and raving about what God is doing and trying to prove that God can't control anything and He can't justify any of these people because they are rebellious sinners. God is working through all of this, and it looks to us from our perspective that the threads are just out of control. They way to get through this when we are going through these kinds of things is to think through the character of God. We know that God is sovereign, which means that He is the ultimate authority in the universe and the ultimate cause in the universe, and therefore nothing that happens occurs besides His permission. No matter how out of control things look in our life they are never out of God's control. That is His sovereignty; He rules and He does it in such a way that He doesn't violate human responsibility or volition but His causation and control is in a different way than ours is. The second thing we have to think about is that God is omniscient. He knows all the knowable.
There is a psalm that directly speaks to this, Psalm 56. If we look at what David writes as he meditates on his circumstances in this psalm we know that this is the same kind of thought process that Joseph should have been going through, and probably did go through, or something like this; and it is the same thought process that we need to go through when all of a sudden chaos erupts around us. The notation at the beginning tells us of the historical context of Psalm 56. It occurred in 1 Samuel 21 when David fled from Saul and is surrounded by people of whom he doesn't know who he can trust. There are spies out everywhere, Saul is out to kill him, he doesn't know who he can trust. So where does he go? To the Philistines in Gath, Goliath's home town. He jumps from the frying pan into the fire to avoid being killed by Saul. So he vries out to God. This psalm is called a lament psalm, a technical for the fact that he is expressing the problems and adversity in his life. He is lamenting the situation in his life.
What is interesting in the lament psalms is that they start off with the psalmist focusing on going to God and, secondly, it focuses on the problem. But then as he shifts from focusing on the problem and takes his eyes off the circumstances and begins to put them on God you can hear his mental attitude shift until it locks on to the character of God by the end of the psalm and these psalms end with a descriptive phrase to God and a vow to obedience to God. So we see him move from just a fragmented mental attitude of being overwhelmed by all of his enemies or whatever the adversity is to moving to a position of stability and comfort and relaxation because he has been stabilized by the character of God.
1 To the chief Musician upon Jonath elem rechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath. Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresses me.
2 My enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.
3 What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
4 In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
5 Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul.
7 Shall they escape by iniquity? in your anger cast down the people, O God.
8 You tell my wanderings: put my tears into thy bottle: are they not in your book?
Explanation: "put my tears into your bottle: are they not in your book?" In the ancient world they had something they called tear bottles. In times of significant loss or grief what they would do is take the tear bottle and capture tears in that bottle and save them as a memorial, to remember that time of grief. What David is saying here is that this is what God does. He is not callous toward the suffering, the heartache, the pain that we are going through. It shows the care and compassion that God has for us in the adversity that we are going through, even though He knows that He is taking us through that adversity to bring maturity and to teach us to trust Him. In the ancient world they would write out a diary of that period of grief and sorrow, so the psalmist is reflecting on the fact that God records and remembers and takes into account every sorrow, every heartache, every difficulty that we go through.
9 When I cry unto you, then shall my enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me.
10 In God will I praise his word: in the LORD will I praise his word.
11 In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
12 Your vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death: will you not deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?
The next doctrinal theme is that honorable leaders are developed and not born. The plan that God has for all church age believers is to make us leaders. That means leaders not only in the home, in the family, in the marriage, in work, whatever field of leadership it may be, but the future plan is to prepare us so that we can rule and reign with Jesus Christ in the Millennial kingdom.