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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

April 2021

Genesis 38:1-5: Higher thoughts and ways

“At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.”NIV

‘’There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man…He married her…” (2).

‘The events described in this chapter demonstrate the danger faced by Jacob’s family in Canaan: the danger of being assimilated into the surrounding Canaanite culture through intermarriage. Judah, now the preeminent son of Jacob, married the daughter of a Canaanite (verse 2). Though Jacob’s family had grown and prospered, they were still a tiny number compared with the Canaanites around them. How was God going to preserve His chosen covenant people as a distinct and holy nation in the midst of the ungodly Canaanites?

God had a plan: He would send Jacob’s family to Egypt. There they would not be inclined to mix with the Egyptians, because the Egyptians would soon begin to despise them: instead they would remain, free to grow into a distinct nation. Seventy members of Jacob’s family would go into Egypt; four hundred years later they would be a great multitude (Exodus 1:6-7). And the means of their entering Egypt and prospering there would be a seventeen-year-old slave boy named Joseph, second youngest son of Jacob!’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.185.

‘God had a plan’ – but regularly we find that His plans are vastly different to ours. His ways and thoughts are far higher than ours. I remember reading Jim Packer’s classic book ‘Knowing God’ early in my ministry, and it probably shaped my thinking more than I know. It hit me like a theological sledgehammer. I seem to remember Packer saying that God, in His sovereignty, even uses the sins of His people to further His purposes. It’s not that He wills them, causes them, or is responsible for them, but He definitely uses them. We see this in chapter 38.

2020, sadly again saw its fair share of high profile ministry ‘moral failures’. On occasions one hears of believers who are stumbled by the bad behaviour of a fellow-believer – even to the point of walking away from the faith and/or stopping attending church. But read the Bible. Read Genesis 38 for example. God has always had people in His family who give Him, and the family, a bad Name. It’s not that such behaviour is to be excused, but we marvel at the mercy and grace of God: at who He uses, and who He restores.

I only have to look in the mirror to see that His grace is amazing!

PRAYER: Help me Lord to so live, that I do not cause anyone to stumble, or give the ungodly further reason to revile your precious Name.

Genesis 38: Amazing Grace

Tomorrow we will look a little more closely at the detail of this chapter. But for today, I’d like to share a couple of ‘overview’ quotes. They deal more with the big picture, rather than the detail:

‘This chapter gives an account of Judah and his family, and such an account it is, that it seems a wonder that of all Jacob’s sons, our Lord should spring out of Judah, Hebrews 7:14. But God will show that his choice is of grace and not of merit, and that Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief. Also, that the worthiness of Christ is of himself, and not from his ancestors. How little reason had the Jews, who were so called from this Judah, to boast as they did, John 8:41. What awful examples the Lord proclaims in his punishments, of his utter displeasure at sin! Let us seek grace from God to avoid every appearance of sin. And let that state of humbleness to which Jesus submitted, when he came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, in appointing such characters as those here recorded, to be his ancestors, endear the Redeemer to our hearts.’ Matthew Henry.

‘Why is this sordid chapter in the Bible? For one thing, we see the contrast between Judah’s sin and Joseph’s victory (chap.39), and we realise the importance of purity.But the main reason is to add another link in the Redeemer’s family tree (v.29; Ruth 4:18-22; Matt.1:3). How gracious God is to mention a prostitute like Tamar in the genealogy of the Saviour!’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.41.

I would want to add to that, how gracious is God to allow any of us sinners to benefit from the Saviour’s death!! Sin is sin, whatever form it takes, and as F.B. Meyer correctly observes: ‘O my soul, remember that the possibilities of all these sins are latent in thee.’

Genesis 37: 34-36: The ‘unrelievables’

“34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’ So his father wept for him.36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.”NIV

‘’…but he refused to be comforted’’ (35).

It was an expression in a book by Gordon Macdonald. He was writing about the different types of people a pastor may encounter in a lifetime of ministry, and he mentioned ‘the unrelievables.’ That phrase struck a chord with me, because I recognise there are people who remain ‘stuck’ in an emotional quagmire, because they choose to be. No matter how much time or attention you give to them, they will not heal, because their wounds, their sense of victimhood, define them. This, tragically, has become their identity.

Now, of course, Jacob was not that kind of person. But the statement that ‘’he refused to be comforted’’ reminded me of Gordon Macdonald’s words. Our hearts go out to Jacob in his great loss and sorrow. As far as he was concerned, he was now bereft of his dearest son. What parent would not grieve? Furthermore, the journey through grief is deeply personal, and no-one can say just when the grieving (or the worst of it) will – or should – end for anyone. But one thing is for sure, if a person should ‘refuse’ to be comforted they will not be.

However, there is one other thing to point out here: Jacob was believing a lie. Again, we can’t blame Jacob for believing the lie. It was told him by his sons. Why would he disbelieve them? Also, he was presented with ‘evidence’ (31-33) and came to his own natural, and logical, conclusion from it. But for all that it appeared true, the lie was a lie, and Jacob lived with the heart-wrenching pain of it for too long.

“No…I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave’’ (35).

But as the very next verse shows, Joseph was not dead and in the grave, he was alive, in Egypt!

Oh how bitterly we will pay for believing a lie.

PRAYER: Lord, please lead me by your Spirit into all truth. Help me to know the truth and its liberating power.

Genesis 37:26-27: Big deal!

“26 Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers agreed.” NIV

Before moving on into the murky waters of chapter 38, I want to linger over a couple of places in the second half of chapter 37. Here’s the first of them:

‘Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’’ ‘

To that I want to say, ‘Big deal!’ Judah would have been happy enough to kill his brother, until he realised that there was actually greater gain to be had in selling him. He saw him (or came to see him) as a commodity, and no longer valued his personhood. Although it doesn’t always take on such a grotesque expression, this is what happens when we see people only in terms of what we can get out of them, rather than what we can give to them. What can I gain from my relationship with you? This is my only concern.

I was disturbed to read an account written by a brilliant Puerto Rican woman, in which she told of her distress upon attending a conference one time. She realised that people were looking past her to find someone ‘more important’ or ‘more influential’ with whom to network. She described how she fled to her hotel room and broke her heart, convulsed with great sobs. Many of us will be able to identify. We have been at similar events, and we know how people can make you feel little and insignificant without them having to say very much. There are those who use people as step-ladders to try to climb higher in the world.

How we treat people is so important. Jesus emphasised this when He said,

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40; see also v.45).

Genesis 37:25-36: Asleep in the storm?

“25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.26 Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers agreed.28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, ‘The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?’31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, ‘We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.’33 He recognised it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’ So his father wept for him.36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.”

‘’You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’’ (Genesis 50:20).

God is in control when everything looks out of control. The situation didn’t look good to Joseph (even though he knew he was still alive – just), and it looked even worse to Jacob (who believed he was dead), but God was in charge, and He was working out a great purpose. When we reach the last verse of the chapter, there is an intimation of better times ahead – although maybe we can only say this if we already know the story.

‘Joseph is one of the most important figures in the Bible. Though not without faults, he was the most upright of all his brothers. Yet he suffered greatly at their hands. As we read this account of the brothers’ cruelty, we might wonder where God was during this time – was he sleeping? Did He no longer care about justice or the protection of the innocent? But later events in Joseph’s life demonstrated that God was indeed watching over him and working out his purposes through him – even through the terrible sin of his brothers. Little did the brothers realise that in their effort to put an end to Joseph and his dreams, they were actually creating the conditions that would lead to the fulfillment of those same dreams…By means of Joseph’s suffering, God saved Joseph’s family from starvation, He brought them to Egypt and prospered them there, and He set in motion the events that would eventually bring them back to the promised land. Joseph’s life is a powerful illustration of the Apostle Paul’s famous statement…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.184.

Later on Hale writes:

‘Just as Jacob himself had deceived his father Isaac with a goat (Genesis 27:8-10, 16), so now his sons were deceiving him with a goat – another example of divine justice. In one way or another, our sins also come back to haunt us.’ P.185. We reap what we sow, and it’s an important observation to make.

PRAYER: Almighty God, in life’s bleakest moments, on the most difficult of days, help me to know that you are in control, and in your way and time you will still the storm.

Genesis 37:12-25: Heartless

“12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, ‘As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.’‘Very well,’ he replied.14 So he said to him, ‘Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.’ Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’16 He replied, ‘I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?’17 ‘They have moved on from here,’ the man answered. ‘I heard them say, “Let’s go to Dothan.”’So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.19 ‘Here comes that dreamer!’ they said to each other. 20 ‘Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.’21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. ‘Let’s not take his life,’ he said. 22 ‘Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.’ Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe – the ornate robe he was wearing – 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.” NIV

‘’As they sat down to eat their meal…’’ (25a)

How callous these brothers were. The only one to really come out well in the story is Reuben, and, arguably, he had the most to lose as the firstborn. We gain an insight into just how hard-hearted they were on this occasion when they later said to one another:

“Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen…” (42:21).

We may believe we are not so bad as they, but how de-sensitised have many become to the great sufferings of humanity. We sit eating our TV dinners, and watching the news, and somehow that screen comes between us and the appalling realities of life in this fallen world.

I so need to pray this prayer. How about you?

PRAYER: ‘Soften my heart Lord, soften my heart. From all indifference set me apart.

Genesis 37: 5-11: I Have a dream

“5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream I had: we were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it.’His brothers said to him, ‘Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?’ And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, ‘What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?’ 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.”NIV

“His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind” (11).

‘God gave Joseph betimes the prospect of his advancement, to support and comfort him under his long and grievous troubles. Observe, Joseph dreamed of his preferment, but he did not dream of his imprisonment. Thus many young people, when setting out in the world, think of nothing but prosperity and pleasure, and never dream of trouble. His brethren rightly interpreted the dream, though they abhorred the interpretation of it. While they committed crimes in order to defeat it, they were themselves the instruments of accomplishing it. Thus the Jews understood what Christ said of his kingdom. Determined that he should not reign over them, they consulted to put him to death; and by his crucifixion, made way for the exaltation they designed to prevent.’ Matthew Henry.

God often spoke to people in dreams in Bible days. It is interesting that in the present day, there are many stories emerging of Muslims encountering Jesus in dreams. Whether through dreams or not, God can give someone an outline sense of the direction their life will take. Sometimes a person may receive detailed insight. Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit there are ‘revelation’ gifts. We are never in control of them. The Holy Spirit is sovereign and distributes the gifts as He wills. But I believe it is my place to eagerly desire the best gifts, and be open to the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

Young Joseph had remarkable dreams. Furthermore, they came true. ‘You can’t put an old head on young shoulders’, and he was probably unwise in how he handled what he’d been shown. But even as ‘’his father rebuked him’’ he was wise to keep ‘’the matter in mind.’’

Stay open. Keep in step with the Spirit. You never know what He might show you…or accomplish through you.

PRAYER: Lord, I pray earnestly that we your people may move in all the gifts you want to give us – to the glory of your Name.

Genesis 37: 1-4: ‘You’re my favourite!’

“Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.This is the account of Jacob’s family line.Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” NIV

“When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (4).

‘In Joseph’s history we see something of Christ, who was first humbled and then exalted. It also shows the lot of Christians, who must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom. It is a history that has none like it, for displaying the various workings of the human mind, both good and bad, and the singular providence of God in making use of them for fulfilling his purposes.’ Matthew Henry.

You don’t necessarily have to tell a child, ‘I love you less.’ Who in their right mind would do that? But I’m sure it does happen; and children see things, feel things, pick things up. This goes for adult children too. I suppose it is hard for parents to not have favourites, but if you let your bias show, you do damage, and you may be sowing ugly weeds which will sprout, at some point, in your garden.

This was certainly the case with Jacob. His favouritism towards Joseph came back to bite him savagely, and had unintended consequences for the lad himself. None of this is to excuse what the brothers did to their sibling. It is indefensible. But we surely must remember that these young men came from a severely dysfunctional family. It seems they were deeply hurt, and their pain is understandable, even if their conduct is inexcusable.

Genesis 37:1-2: ‘Hidden Valleys’

“Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.This is the account of Jacob’s family line.Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.”NIV

‘’Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers…” (2).

This young man was destined, in the purposes of God, to become second-in-command in Egypt, a foreign nation. He had a great future ahead, but who would have thought it when he was tending sheep? There is an important Biblical principle, however, that faithfulness in little leads to faithfulness in much.

I was captured by this second verse, and it caused me to think about the words of a Steve Green – all song about another shepherd boy. This one, David, was to become Israel’s greatest king. I wonder if you can see why it came to mind as I read about Joseph? Here are the lyrics:

In a hidden valley just over the hill

A young shepherd boy surrenders his will

As he lifts his voice in praise to his King

Only the lambs will hear and follow as he sings

In a hidden valley a faithful one leads

No one looking on, he cares for their needs

For he knows the One who tries the heart

So he is steadfast and content to do his part

Hidden valleys produce a life song

Hidden valleys will make a heart strong

Desperation can cause you to sing

Hidden valleys turn shepherds to kings

In a hidden valley a leader is born

He has faced the fierce and weathered the storm

So with humble heart and love for his God

He becomes royalty with just a staff and rod

Hidden valleys produce a life song

Hidden valleys will make a heart strong

Desperation can cause you to sing

Hidden valleys turn shepherds to kings

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