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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson


August 2021

Genesis 50:19-21: Perspective

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Here are three important things to always remember:

• You (and I) are not God (19). It’s stating the obvious, but we’re not. It is not our job to judge anyone. To our own Master we each stand or fall. (By the way, a weekly sabbath can help us remember we’re not God. It is one of its values. It reminds us that the universe, the world and the church do continue without our efforts. It can keep us in your place, and prepare us for the reality of death, when life will not stop because we have gone. It would, of course, if God were to disappear from the scene, but that is just not going to happen!);
• God is in control (20). Joseph had been given a wonderful perspective on his circumstances. In loving and forgiving his brothers, he did not minimise the gravity of their crimes. He didn’t sweep sin under the carpet. But he recognised that God had a higher purpose in all the wrong intended, and done, to him. The ultimate expression of this principle is worked out at the cross, of which we can say both bad men did it and a good God did it. Both are true (see Acts 4:27,28);
• Treat everyone with kindness and respect, and especially those who mistreat you (21). Joseph shows this is possible by God’s grace (see Romans 12:14;17-21).

Genesis 50:15-18: Burying the past

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

Warren Wiersbe writes about three ‘burials’ in Genesis 50; and between the burial of Jacob and Joseph, coming at the beginning and end of the chapter, we have in the middle the ‘burial’ of the past.

No wonder “Joseph wept” when his brothers spoke as they did. He had been so gracious to them. He had forgiven them everything. He held nothing against them. It must have hurt deeply then, that they were not convinced of his love for them.

I was thinking, aren’t we so often like this in our approach to God. Like the prodigal son we say, ”…make me like one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:19). But He sees us as sons, and treats us accordingly.

PRAYER: Lord, help me please to really believe in your love for me, and to revel in it. Enable me to bathe in the wonder of ‘love so amazing, so divine…’

Genesis 50:15-18: Jumping at shadows

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

As a child, I was often given a penny, or half-penny, to spend on sweets from the ‘penny tray’ at a shop I passed on the way to school. But one day, for some un-remembered reason, I had a larger amount of cash than normal in my pocket. I entrusted this to a friend to go and buy the goodies. When he returned with quite a large stash he told me the shopkeeper had said to him, ‘Make sure you share these.’ Of course I did, and I’m sure I intended to. But I’ve often wondered, did she really say that, or was he just making it up out of enlightened self-interest?!!

Similarly, whenever I read this chapter, I find myself thinking, ‘Did Jacob say what the brothers claimed (16, 17)? Or were they just inventing a script to try to cover their backs? Was it fear talking? I can find no evidence Jacob did utter these words.

Well maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. But I know how easily I can invent scenarios in my mind that bear no correspondence to reality. I do it all too often. At times there is a strong whiff of manure lying over this fertile field of my thoughts. Anxiety can cause vain imaginings. You end up having unreal conversations with people inside your head, and sadly, believing what isn’t true.

Anyway, it’s not surprising Joseph was distressed that they so distrusted him, especially when his intentions towards them were totally gracious.

PRAYER: Lord, your word tells us not to lie, and we know we shouldn’t lie to ourselves either. Please help us in our human weakness. Again and again we ‘jump at shadows.’ Please forgive us for when we misrepresent others to ourselves. Lord have mercy, and empower us to be renewed in the spirit of our minds. May we controlled by wholesome thinking.

Genesis 50: 4-14: Life goes on

4 When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, 5 ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’”6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt— 8 besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. 9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. 11 When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.” That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim.12 So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 14 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

Regarding this burial, Tom Hale writes:

‘The reader is reminded of God’s promise to Jacob when he left Canaan to go down to Egypt: “I will surely bring you back again” (Genesis 46:4). Here once again we see the fulfillment of God’s promise. But beyond that, the great procession described here is a hint, a foreshadowing of an even greater procession that would take place four hundred years later: the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and their fourty-year journey to the promised land. Even the roundabout routes of the two processions were similar: in both cases Canaan was entered from the east.’ ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’, pp.202, 203.

There is a sense in which, following each and every burial, we have to ‘return to Egypt.’ What I mean to say is that life has to go on and we have to live it. Back in 2009 I was given a number of books on grieving and bereavement. They were all helpful in their own way. But the stand-out phrase I took away from one of them was, ‘You have to establish a new normal.’ I found that thought so helpful. The ‘old normal’ has gone and will not return, but you can build new patterns. (I appreciate that in the last eighteen months, this phrase has been used re life during, and after, the pandemic, but I think I will always associate it primarily with rebuilding life after loss).

Joseph’s ‘new normal’ back in Egypt involved adjusting to the painful reality that his father was dead, and he would never see him again in this world. But his life went on, as we shall see. It also went on for his brothers.

Life does go on. What, of course, is wrong, is that any of us should insist that people move on when they are not ready. Every grieving soul will move at their own pace, and they need sympathetic, patient friends to walk with them.

‘This was Joseph’s first trip back to his homeland in thirty-nine years, and it’s too bad it had to be for his father’s burial. But he didn’t linger in Canaan, for God had given Joseph a job to do in Egypt, and that’s where he belonged with his family.’

Life does go on, and for every believer there is always work to do.

PRAYER: We pause to pray today for all those who have lost their nearest and dearest. They face the huge challenging of carrying on without those they love. Help them, in your timing, to live again, and give them true companions on their journey. Enable me to be a ‘friend indeed’ to friends in need.

Genesis 50:1-3: The valley of tears

50 Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. 2 Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, 3 taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

Who can not be moved by this scene? Although things turned around massively for Joseph in later years, because of the sins of others he lost years of life with his father. He’d had him ‘back’ for a relatively short time when he had to let him go again. There was no doubt a difference between the formal mourning of the Egyptians, and Joseph’s personal grief.

The Bible is an emotional book. Feelings (all kinds of feelings) are expressed freely throughout its pages. Our Lord Jesus, we are told:

“During the days of (his) life on earth…offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death…” (Hebrews 5:7).

The Anglican poet and pastor, John Keble, called tears “the best gift of God to suffering man.” Tears
can be cathartic. They can bring release and a form of healing. The Bible does not ask us to stuff down genuine grief. It hurts when we lose those we love. No-one can ever understand this heartache until they face it. So don’t be too quick to pour out your ‘wise counsel’ on the bereaved if you’ve not walked that way. Grieving people often have to endure (in addition to their grief) the well-intentioned, but hurtful platitudes and cliches of those who have no idea. We must learn to walk lovingly, kindly and gently with those going through this deep, dark valley

The Bible does not say that Christians don’t grieve, but it does imply that the “hope” we have in some way transforms the grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff).

‘…when old people die, those who love them feel the loss deeply. The longer you have someone in your life that you really love, the deeper the roots go into your heart and the more wrenching is the experience of having those roots pulled up.’ Warren W.Wiersbe: ‘Old Testament Commentary’, p.140.

Genesis 49:29-33: Family reunion

Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.”
33 When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

When a believer dies, they are gathered to their people in more ways than one. We recently buried my dad’s ashes in his parents’ grave in Lancaster. The ashes of his sister and brother-in-law are also in that same plot. I understand it was his cherished wish to be ‘with’ his parents and, for us, as a family, there was a sense of taking him ‘home.’ But as a Christian, it is my conviction that dad is ‘home’ in a far more significant way, and it is comforting to think of the family reunion they are having in another world, another dimension. However, greater than any of this is the reality of being ‘forever with the Lord.’

Jacob was still living by faith when he died, and his last instruction shows it. (This is a repetition of 47:29,30, but in greater detail. He had already spoken to Joseph about the matter, but now he wanted all his sons to be aware of their joint responsibility.) Jacob, too, wanted to be in the same grave as his parents and grandparents, and one of his wives – Leah. But for him it wasn’t primarily an emotional request. It was a statement of faith. Tom Hale explains that that this burial place, where Abraham and Isaac and their wives were buried, was like an “advance” or “deposit” on the family’s eventual inheritance of the promised land. Later, Joseph was to request that his bones be carried to Canaan (50:24,25). ‘In this way the founding fathers of Israel confirmed their faith that indeed, one day, the land would belong to their descendants.’ ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.202.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for the hope of a richer, fuller life beyond this life for all who trust in Christ

Genesis 49:27,28: The personal touch

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
    in the morning he devours the prey,
    in the evening he divides the plunder.”

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.

With the final words about Benjamin, perhaps referring to the military exploits of this tribe (remember Saul was from Benjamin), we can surely see how different the brothers were. They differed in character/personality. They had different destinies. We are not all the same. As John Stott once wrote, we are not to imagine that we have been ‘mass produced in some celestial factory.’ A key to on-going harmony in the church is to understand and respect these differences, and to be grateful for them. We are not all ‘eyes’ or ‘hands’ or ‘feet’, but together we form one body. Everyone of us needs everyone else.

It has been argued (I think by Calvin) that the knowledge of God is the route to self-knowledge. The more we grow in His knowledge, the more likely it is that we will understand who we are, and what it is we are called to do in the world.

God knows us by name. He treats as individuals. He has the personal touch.

As a hymn says, ‘There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do.’

Genesis 49:22-26: Cause and effect

Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine near a spring,
whose branches climb over a wall.
With bitterness archers attacked him;
they shot at him with hostility.
But his bow remained steady,
his strong arms stayed limber,
because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
because of your father’s God, who helps you,
because of the Almighty, who blesses you
with blessings of the skies above,
blessings of the deep springs below,
blessings of the breast and womb.
Your father’s blessings are greater
than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
than the bounty of the age-old hills.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince among his brothers.

A few summer’s ago we had a bumper crop of apples on our trees. They are planted next to a wall, and some of the branches, and the fruit, were obviously hanging over it. We heard that our neighbour had commented, ‘I wonder what Steve and Jilly are doing with all those apples.’ We were very glad to share them with him! But it made me think, ‘Oh that the neighbours may see abundant spiritual fruit in our lives and want some of it.’ I’d like to have the fruit of the Spirit go ‘over the wall’.

This is a beautiful summary of Joseph’s life. It does seem that those who suffer the most often bear the most fruit. He certainly came through a lot, but his fruitfulness was fed by a “spring”. It was God (Jacob’s God, who was also Joseph’s God) who was his source. Look at the repetition of the word “because.” It is found four times in verses 24b and 25a. If the ‘effect’ was a fruitful life, God was the ‘cause’, not Joseph. He was truly a blessed man.

PRAYER: Lord, I pray that people around me will see the evidence of your work in my life and want you.

Genesis 49:21: ’Set free’

Naphtali is a doe set free
that bears beautiful fawns.

A year or two ago, while browsing at a charity stall, I paid a small amount of money to buy an old Methodist hymnal. But the truth is, it is priceless. It is such a treasure. You can still be ‘burned’ by the fires of revival, glowing through these old words. My copy dates back to 1933, and, according to a handwritten note inside the cover, it was presented ‘to the Methodist Society at Melmerby’ in 1934.

This morning I ‘just happened’ to read this opening paragraph of the preface:

‘Methodism was born in song. Charles Wesley wrote the first hymns of the Evangelical Revival during the great Whitsuntide of 1738 when his brother and he were “filled with the Spirit,” and from that time onwards the Methodists have never ceased to sing. Their characteristic poet is still Charles Wesley. While for half a century hymns poured continually from his pen on almost every subject within the compass of Christianity, and while no part of the New Testament escaped him, most of all he sang the “gospel according to St.Paul.” He is the poet of the Evangelical faith. By consequence Methodism has always been able to sing its creed.’

Here are some of the most famous words Wesley ever wrote:

‘My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.’

I made a mental connection with this great hymn and Genesis 49:21. How wonderful it is to be ‘set free’!

Apparently this verse in Genesis can be rendered:

“Naphtali is a doe set free he utters beautiful words”

That was Charles Wesley don’t you think? Liberated by Christ, he expressed his faith in excellent, lovely language, and the church at large has been the beneficiary. ‘He is the poet of the Evangelical faith.’

‘The image of “a hind (doe) let loose” suggests a free-spirited people, not bound to tradition. The tribe was located in the hill country. So this image was chosen wisely…The last clause – “he gives goodly (beautiful) words” (NKJV) – suggests they were a poetic people who could express themselves well. Possessing the abilities to run like does and speak beautiful words, the people of Naphtali would make ideal messengers.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘Old Testament Commentary’, p.138.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for setting me free from sin, death and the devil. In my glorious liberty, may I ‘give birth’ to beautiful things that will bless others.

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