Tag Archives: Genesis

God’s People, part 19: Joseph

Read Genesis 37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then [God] sent someone to Egypt ahead of them— Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” (Psalms‬ ‭105:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 19: Joseph. An entire book could be written on Joseph and, as a matter of fact, the last quarter of Genesis is centered on him. Most of us know the gist of his story. He was a “dreamer” who had dreams that proved to be really annoying to his family and, specifically, his eleven other brothers. While the Bible tells us that Joseph had number of dreams, they always ended in the same way: with his brothers and the rest of his family (mom and dad included) worshipping the ground he walked on.

Sounds a bit…I don’t know…egotisitcal and heady, right? His brothers thought so and decided to murder him. Reuben suggested putting him in a well and leaving him to die (with the hope that he could come back and rescue his brother in secret). The others took the suggestion, but Judah offered one even more alluring. He suggested they not kill Joseph at all, evidently while Reuben was not there; rather, Judah suggested that they sell him off, make a profit and pass him off as being killed by a wild animal to their father. So, that is what they did, much to Reuben’s dismay. Joseph was sold to nomads who brought him into Egypt.

Long story short, it was his ability to interpret dreams that ironically saved his hide and put him under Pharaoh’s employment. Through his ability to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph rose to be the second in command under Pharaoh. It was through his newfound position and status in Egypt that Joseph found his place in the world and became the savior of his own people.

He also became the archetype for the prophet. The prophet both dreams and can interpret dreams. Those dreams tend to have prophetic implications. Those implications end up costing the profit, big league. People reject, abuse, and sometimes kill the prophet, until the prophecy comes true and the prophet (alive or dead) is respected.

Yet, what landed Joseph into trouble with his brothers was not so much his prophetic dreams, but his inability to know when to play it cool and chill out on the self-aggrandizing and boastful rhetoric. When one reads the story carefully, Joseph’s prophetic dreams are distorted by his own boasting of his status with his father.

Jacob favored Joseph more than the others, to the point where he was giving Joseph fancy clothing to wear and keeping him from having to workt he fields, while his brothers slaved away. Worse than that, actually. Jacob seemingly put Joseph in charge of his brothers and sent him out in his fancy clothing to check up on them and make sure they were doing their work efficiently. Then he was to bring the report back to his father.

Let me tell you this, no one likes a supervisor. Especially when that supervisor is one’s snot-nosed, bratty, younger brother. This enraged his brothers so much that they plotted against them. Had Jospeh humbled himself and explained his dream in a way that was less threatening to them, perhaps they would have heard Joseph out and at least given him the benefit of the doubt. We’ll never know, and God brought the good out of what had gone from bad to ugly in one fell swoop.

Have you ever been so sure that God was calling you to do somethng that you ended up doing it without ever pausing to wonder exactly HOW it should be done? Have you ever rubbed someone the wrong way due to coming off as boastful or self-aggrandizing? Sometimes we are doing exactly what we are supposed to do; however, we are NOT doing it HOW we ought to! When that happens we can be a hinderance to God’s ultimate plan, rather than serving it’s ultimate purpose. While God can and will bring the good out of any circumstance, let us learn from Joseph, that humility goes a long way in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Without humility, the GOOD News of Jesus Christ looks very, very BAD.

PRAYER

Lord, give me the boldness of your prophets, and the humility of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 8: Ishmael

Read Genesis 21:8-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness.” (Genesis‬ ‭21:20a‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 8, Ishamel. There is nothing worse than seeing a child needlessly suffer. At the time of this writing, news is breaking about a terrorist suicide bombing following an Ariana Grande concert outside of the arena in Manchester, UK. At this point, at least 22 people are dead and dozens maimed and I just find myself heartbroken for those people. Ariana Grande, of course, is a pop star who is very popular with tweens and teens. Many of those children were at the concert alone, with their parents coming back to pick them up, which is a common practice in today’s time.

What kind of monster would do that to a child? Why would someone attack those who have barely even begun to live their lives? Why would one want to charm innocent children? These questions and more run through desparate minds as they try to make sense of what is ultimately senseless evil running amok in our world.

Yet, when we read the story of Ishmael, we barely even bat an eye. After all, he survived, right? Sure, he had his birthright stripped from him and he got thrown out to the wilderness by his father, but no harm no fould, right? It is amazing to me how we can glaze over and ignore the horrors in the Bible simply because it was done in the name of God and the presumption of God’s will.

Yet, if we pay close attention to the details of the story, Ishmael was not yet weaned from breastfeeding when he and his mother were banished from his home due to Sarah’s jealousy which was ultimately due to Abraham’s infdelity. This means that Ishmael was a mere 2-3 years old at best when he and his mother were sent out into the scorching, arid wilderness to fend for themselves. 2-3 years old! This was nothing short of a death sentence. This was nothing short of EVIL!

Yet, despite the way the author wrote it in the Bible, the reality is that God would not let that evil win. Despite the cold, heartless, cruel actions of Abraham and Sarah, God was with Ishmael and his mother. God would not let the injustice of his people go unanswered and uncountered. Instead, God provided for them. God gave them a well to drink from and, eventually, delivered them to safety. The Scriptures state that “God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer and settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from Egypt” (Genesis 21:20-21).

The first thing that needs to be stressed is this: God’s people don’t always get it right. In fact, God’s people sometimes get it very wrong! What’s more, even God’s people are not immune from committing attrocious acts of evil. Just because we think we are a part of the “in crowd” deos not mean that we are truly “in line” with God. God’s people often make the mistake of believing that God belongs to us. My friends, the TRUTH is that we belong to God, not the other way around; however, we only belong to God when we are aligned with God’s will, not just because we presume to know God’s will.

Secondly, it is important to make note of consistent pattern. God blesses people. People become complacent in their blessedness. Complacency leads to the belief that God belongs to us, and that belief leads people to do unjust things because they have effectively replaced God with themselves. These unjust, and often evil, things lead people to suffer in oppression. God hears the cries of the injust and aligns with them, and begins to counter the evil through prophets and others who work voice God’s outrage and judgment upon the oppressors, as well as work to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. God blesses the oppressed and liberates them, showing the world that THEY ARE GOD’s PEOPLE.

This pattern hopefully leads to shame and repentance among God’s wayward people, but sadly that is not always the case. Ishmael’s tale is the tale of the oppressed, and it is a cautionary tale for all of us. We’ve all played the part of the oppressed, and we’ve all played the part of the oppressor. We’ve all been given God’s blessing, and we’ve all turned God’s blessing into a curse for others. God is calling all of us to recognize this fact, to break the chains of this pattern, and return to being God’s righteous people once again.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We should aspire to God’s righteousness not self-righteousness.

PRAYER

Lord, love me, bless me, correct me, forgive me, and use me as a blessing for others.

Out of the Chaos

Read Genesis 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” (Psalms 46:1-3 NRSV)

KOccCrtIn the film, “The Dark Knight”, Heath Ledger plays my favorite version of the Joker. As a character actor, Ledger isolated himself and immersed himself in the role in order to “become” the joker. His interpretation of the Joker was that of a maniacal mass murderer who was hell-bent on projecting the inner chaos within his tormented soul out into the world at large. Sure, this Joker has all of the attributes that you’d expect the Joker to have: the clown face, the broad and menacing grin, the crazed laugh, and the green(ish) hair; yet, this Joker is wild, extremely dark and utterly chaotic.

There are many awesome quotes to pull from this Joker character that Ledger plays, but the one that struck me the most came toward the end of the film as it was approaching its tragic and climactic end. Sitting in the hospital next to the bedside of Harvey Dent, the District Attorney who the Joker severely burned with a gasoline explosion, the Joker began to explain himself. “I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmmm? You know… You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ’according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”

In that moment, the Joker hands Harvey Dent a gun and has him point it directly at his (the Joker’s) head, “Introduce a little anarchy,” the Joker continues. “Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”

Whether or not chaos is actually fair, it is certainly indiscriminate. The world, much to our dismay, is filled with chaos and always has been. The Jews who were exiled in Babylon certainly understood what chaos was and they sought some sort of plan in order to explain why the chaos was surrounding them.

While the prophets tried to explain the chaos and the reasons it befell the Jews, the scribes did not for there is no real answer why. Yes, our bad decisions could help in creating chaos around us, as can the bad choices of others, as can the forces of nature. Yet, all of those are chaos because they are NOT a part of any sort of divine plan. Rather than explaining why, the priestly scribes wrote what we now know as Genesis 1, which tells of a God who, at the beginning, hovered over the chaos. What’s more, out of the chaos, God brought order and new life.

It is so easy for us to get caught up, or even tripped up, in the chaos of this world. It is easy for us to allow our lives to spin out of control and for us to fall into chaos ourselves. Who knows why the Joker became the Joker? Who really knows why he chose the path of chaos rather than the path of hope? There is really no explanation that answers those questions, and those questions really miss the point. The point if we succumb to the chaos around us in our lives we, too, become agents of chaos. Just like the Joker, we can choose to be chaotic, but God is calling us to let go of the control we think we have in our lives, to let go of the avoid chaos, and to let go of the fear that keeps us imprisoned within it. If we do that, and we need to trust in God in order to do that, then God will create order in the midst of the chaos and we, in the end will experience true and lasting peace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” – Carl Jung

PRAYER
“Lord, help me to trust in you, for I know that out of the chaos you bring order. I trust that you can do this in my life.” Amen.

Worthy Engagement

Read Genesis 6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15b, New Living Translation)

hr_Noah_3This past week the famous comedian, satirist, and political commentator Bill Maher sparked some controversy when he gave his opinion of the upcoming epic film Noah, starring Russell Crowe. Maher, who is a self-described agnostic, went on to critique the story of Noah in the Bible. “Hey God, you know there’s a problem when you star in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with the bigger anger problems. He also referred to the God found in the Noah story as a “psychotic, mass murderer” and a “baby killer”, referring to the fact that God flooded the world in order to kill every living thing.

On the flip side, Christians have also complained about the film for not being 100% true to the Biblical account. Pastor Rick Warren called it a waste of money because if one wants to know the story, one should read the Bible and not view a film that is adding stuff to the story that isn’t there. Other Christians, said that the film was too dark. Evidently, they don’t see the story of God killing every man, woman, child, animal, plant, and micro-organism as being “dark”).

Bill Maher does have a point that the story of Noah, the story of an angry and disheartened God who decides to kill every living thing, a part from every thing, is horrific. It is hard to justify that kind of a story. Surely, not all of creation deserved such a flood. Even if, as the Bible portrays, ALL grown adult people were wicked (that alone is hard enough to swallow), what about the innocent babies, the animals, the plants? Were they deserving of such a fate? Christians should not be flippant about Maher’s argument simply because of the way he presented it or because it challenges their understanding.

The objecting Christians do have a point too. This upcoming film, Noah, will not be 100% accurate in its portrayal of the Biblical account. No movie is ever 100% accurate in any portrayal of a book. Period. Movies add things, they take things away, and they go in different directions in order to add dramatic effect for the film. Films never translate the same way as books. And it is important for us to not replace reading the Bible with watching film versions of the stories. Christians who are concerned about this should be. We all should be!

With all of that said, I am encouraging people of all persuasions to go see the film. If you are a person of faith (within any religion), go see the film. If you are an agnostic, go see the film. If you are atheist, go see the film. First, I think it is important that we support movies that are based on something that transcends the shallow worldview of Hollywood. Second, the more films that are made about the stories in the Bible, the more it will spark an interest in the Bible itself. Believe it or not, many people today haven’t picked a Bible up in their lives and so many of these stories are unfamiliar. Such films can and will spark the interest.

Finally, and this is the most important of my points, it is good and healthy for people to engage each other over these stories. Whether you believe the Flood story literally, or metaphorically, or if you find it abhorrent and you don’t believe it at all, such films will spark conversation and discussion, just as Noah has. I may not agree with everything Bill Maher said, and I certainly don’t appreciate the way he said it, but I do appreciate that the discussion is being had. As people of faith, we should not fear engaging people in healthy and respectful dialog. So, go and see this movie if you can. Wrestle with it and engage others in conversation about it. If you are unable to, then simply read it in the Bible, wrestle with it and enter into the discussion that way! Either way, challenge yourself to engage the story, to engage yourself in relation to the story, and to engage others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I take things in better when I’m allowed to talk, and respond, and engage and move around a bit.” – Daniel Radcliffe

PRAYER
Lord, stir in me a desire to study the Bible, to wrestle with it, and to be willing to engage others with it in ways relevant to them. Amen.