Fellowship at Cross Creek
Snake-bit! When All Seems Against Me!
Intro… We all have the propensity egocentrically, to prematurely interpret events, experiences and outcomes. We think we know where this is headed. We are losing again, which means we WILL lose again? Or does it?
When everything seems to be going wrong, have any of you played the game where you associate your current dilemma to your past, as if God is punishing you for former sins or indiscretions? If so, why, as humans, do we tend to do this—connect the present to the past? Aren’t we looking for answers? How could this many bad things go wrong at about the same time? I must be being punished for something in my past, or why else would everything be going so wrong now?
Most all of us have played some version of this game? But in reality, that is just the way life is sometimes. Our view of one big thing affects our viewpoint of everything else. I call it the “addition principle.” If one important thing goes well, then we view ten other marginal things through the lens of that one good thing, but if one important thing goes bad, we see those same ten other things as negative because they contained elements of both good and bad. The key was the one event that went well or not so well. It becomes a filter for everything else.
And yet, there are times, such as in the case of Job, or even Joseph, when lots of things are going bad over time, and ironically, there is an element of divine madness or purpose in what we are going through. In this story, Joseph’s brothers now feel they are snake-bit. Nothing is going right. They have no idea that the brother they betrayed so many years ago is pulling many of the strings that appear to be going so wrong for them, or that even on a grander scale, God, in a way, none of us really understands, was pulling the strings all along. So now, when things are going not so good, it must be because of what we did to our brother so long ago. Well, kinda yes, but NOT in the way they were thinking. Isn’t that what’s so wonderful about God. There just may be a connection between events from our past to our present, but NOT in the way we think. As Romans 8 teaches, could God be using everything in our lives, both good and bad, to conform us into the image of his Son? So, it’s NOT whether something is good or bad that really makes the difference, but how do we seek out the God of the Universe to help us deal or cope with what does not seem clear or purposeful in the moment. Such is the story, or at least another chapter in that story, with which we explore within this “exposing” passage of Scripture.
Recently, we began a new unit or section or person of study…the life of Joseph. Essentially, the story of Joseph, is for the most part, our story. Chosen by God for a special purpose, Joseph must first endure much suffering and injustice before arriving at his God-ordained purpose and calling, and what a purpose it will be.
As we read, I want you to continue pondering, your special identity in Christ, and that just because you may be going through difficult days, your suffering…your waiting is NOT in vain. As God’s child…as God’s children, just as with Joseph and his brothers, you…we…all have a purpose in Christ (Romans 8; Eph. 1; 1 Peter 1).
The Bible’s very first word is the Hebrew word Bərēšīṯ, which means “in [the] beginning.” “Genesis” is actually the Greek word for “beginnings” or “origins,” and thus the origin for both the Latin and English transliteration: Genesis.
So what’s our goal? Just to explore. Like an archaeologist exploring ancient ruins, we are going back to the Scripture’s beginnings to do a little Spiritual digging and poking around to see what was God doing before God’s Son was Spiritually conceived in his mother Mary’s womb? What were the world, people and life like from the very beginning?
Summary of Recent Explorations…
• The Creation: The Creator Creates His Creation and its Caretakers (Adam and Eve). Gen. 1-2.
• The Fall: But a Crafty Adversary Emerges, Infecting the Creator’s Caretakers with a Virulent Strain of Deceptive Evil (non-beneficial actions). Gen. 3-4.
• The Flood: The story of the righteous Servant and a devastating Flood. In order to Save his Creation from a self-destructive and merciless evil, the Creator Must radically purge or cleanse his Creation Gen. 5-7.
• Creation’s New Beginning…Gen. 8-11.
• Creation’s New Caretaker: The Creator Raises up, Chooses and Greatly Blesses a righteous and trusting Caretaker named Abraham. Gen. 12-25.
• The Torch of the Creator’s Trusting Caretaking Now Passes to Succeeding Generations (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph…) Gen. 26ff.
Joseph’s Story…Gen. 37-50.
• Jacob’s older sons grow deeply resentful of their favored youngest brother, Joseph. Gen. 37:1ff.
• Joseph’s jealous older brother tell their grieving father, Jacob, that Joseph has been killed by wild animals, when in actuality they have sold Joseph into slavery. Gen. 37:12ff.
• Despite being wrongly trafficked as a slave and then falsely accused and imprisoned God’s sustaining grace still accompanies Joseph. Gen. 39:1ff.
• Despite rightly interpreting the baker and cupbearer’s dreams, Joseph’s grace seemingly goes unrewarded. Gen. 40:1ff.
• Finally, Joseph is delivered from his false imprisonment by being remembered by the cupbearer and correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s two dreams. Gen. 41:1ff.
• Pharaoh now empowers Joseph to be the supreme authority to wisely guide Egypt through these next years of predicted plenty and famine. Gen. 41:38ff.
• Due to the famine, unknowingly Joseph’s brothers have been reunited with their younger who now controls all the grain in Egypt. Gen. 42:1ff.
Pray; read three times (perhaps just twice) and ask questions…
18 Now Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God:
Interesting confession…”I fear God.” Do his brothers understand that Joseph fears or reveres the same God that they worship, or do they think Joseph fears another god, an Egyptian one? This ought to have been a tip off of some kind because why would an Egyptian worship their God? And the reason for Joseph saying he fears God here is because that he does not want to wrongly accuse or punish innocent men, thus here is a compromise that should satisfy both parties? Of course, it must be remembered that Joseph knows exactly who they are and that they are not spies, but he allows his charade to continue for a much greater purpose.
19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households,
Allow one brother to remain as a sort of down payment or pledge that indeed you are honest men and not spies…
20 and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.” And they did so.
Thus, Joseph is assured of seeing his full-blood younger brother because each had the same mother and father.
21 Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.”
I don’t remember anything about Joseph’s pleadings when his brothers sold him into slavery, but apparently he did beg not to be sold. Now, because of the seeming evil that they are experiencing, they tend to think that they are being paid back for their previous crimes…a kind of divine justice or fate? Interesting concept, especially in light of the fact that they really have zero knowledge at this point that, on one level they are being played liked puppets on a string by the brother whom they played with like a puppet, and that even on a grander scale, the Divine in some sense has used their evil for a much greater purpose—Israel will move to Egypt where God will transform a family into a nation or people, before returning them to their fathers ancient Promised Land.
22 Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.”
I told you so. We are being made to pay for our previous sins, of which I, Reuben, the oldest warned you about. But you would not listen. I hope you are happy, because I am not.
23 They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them.
Another layer of the charade. With a front row seat to his brothers’ consternation, Joseph has to be enjoying this, or at least feeling validated.
Joseph and his Brothers by Franz Anton Maulbertsch, 1745-1750.
24 He turned away from them and wept. But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.
Why the tears? Because they realize their sins? Because Reuben attempted to intervene? Because of thirteen years? Or perhaps all of the above?
25 Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them.
Interesting scenario. He would want to do this anyway, because after all this is family, and his father and brother are on the other end of this transaction or act of mercy, but at the same time, the money being placed back in their sacks may also have a strategic value later on in the story as well.
26 So they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed from there.
27 As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack.
28 Then he said to his brothers, “My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.” And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”
Cursed? Will they now be accused of stealing by the harsh Egyptian lord? Does the money condemn or their brother Simeon? Are they being made to pay for their original crime? What is going on here?
29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying,
30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country.
31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies.
But they were NOT honest man, were they? Perhaps in general, but they had their dirty little secret—their secret sin, indiscretion…and a grievous one at that…one that had caused their father a great grief. At the same time, Jacob or Israel and employed his fair share of deception as well when he connived his older twin brother’s birthright for their father Isaac.
32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no longer alive, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.’
33 The man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go.
34 But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’”
If you come back with your youngest brother, then I will know that you were telling the truth and that you were NOT spies?
35 Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed.
Interesting that they had not checked all their sacks when the one brother had checked his and found the money?
36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.”
You can see his point…So perhaps Jacob too feels like he is paying for past crimes as well? Or at least something is working against him?
37 Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.”
So the human deposits just keep on coming. Ironically, Reuben must do what the brothers had just done with Simeon—put his kids up for a deposit that both Benjamin and Simeon would return home safely. And why would Jacob want to kill his grandsons? Still Reuben must do something if he is to retrieve Simeon.
38 But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”
Benjamin is my boundary. No more. I am stopping with Simeon. No more risks.
• Joseph now offers the brothers a deal. Instead of them all remaining in prison, one brother can remain, while the other nine return home. If they bring their youngest brother back with them, then this will be proof that they are telling the truth and not spies. The brother left behind will then be released and they will be allowed to freely trade within Egypt.
• Having little choice, the brothers accept the deal, but as they are accepting it, they connect their present mistreatment as punishment for having mistreated their younger brother Joseph, who now sits in front of them without their knowledge. Amazing.
• Knowing their language, Joseph is deeply moved by their ruminations concerning their earlier sin.
• Joseph now binds before their eyes the brother they choose to leave behind, Simeon.
• As they get further down the road, one brother looks into his sack of grain and finds not only the purchased grain, but the money that they had used to buy the grain. Now, fearing even more calamity, they wonder if this is all by the hand of God.
• When they arrive home, they tell their story to their father, and then each finds money within his grain sack.
• Jacob now stands firm. You have lost Joseph and Simeon and you want me to give you Benjamin, are you crazy? It’s not going to happen.
Summary: Jacob refuses to risk losing another son when his sons tell him that they were forced to leave their brother Simeon behind back in Egypt as surety that they would bring back their youngest brother Benjamin in order to prove that they are NOT spies. Jacob, nor his sons, realize that the harsh Egyptian lord making these demands is actually his son Joseph whom his other sons had previously deceived him into believing was dead.
Why did God include this event in his record or what would we not know–about God, life, myself, others, etc.–if this story were not in the Bible?
• When multiple things begin to go wrong, we tend to look for explanations beyond the normal, such as God, fate or karma even. It’s payback for previous wrongs. A divine evening up of things, so to speak. What’s ironic about what Joseph’s brothers are experiencing is kind of both. At this moment, Joseph is pulling the strings, but for Joseph to be pulling the strings God has to be pulling the strings. This archetypal story seems to have several layers or nuances of seemingly ironic or divine truth embedded within it…layers and truths that all bear further scrutiny or thoughtfulness. It’s not just man, but God, and yet man is still making choices. Some would have man acting in way in which God pulls all the strings. That man has no choice. I tend to struggle with the inference that man is but a robot, and yet no doubt God is involved and can and does intervene. We want nice, pretty logical explanations or theologies about God, and quite often, God, life and man’s choices don’t always cooperate. Bottom line, for man, it is still a mystery. Joseph’s brothers had choices and did choose; Joseph has choices here and is choosing too, and yet God is somehow orchestrating all or some of these events for a much greater purpose.
• Ignorant that it is the son whom he is grieving the loss of—Joseph—that is making the demands for his youngest son Benjamin to be taken to Egypt, Jacob draws a line in the sand. So in essence, is taking no chances with losing Benjamin, Jacob is not only losing a second son, Simeon, but he is NOT gaining back the son whose loss he grieves. Thus by protecting one son, Jacob loses two sons. How is anyone ever to make these kind of choices? Do I risk further and perhaps lose more or do I play it safe and contain my losses? For anyone who says they know for sure, they have no idea, which once again drives man nuts. We want to know. There must be some kind of complex, infinite formula that will predict the results. And when there doesn’t seem to be one, we want to give up our choice and call it fate or God’s sovereign will so that we are emotionally left off the hook. See, nothing I could have done would have made any difference. And sometimes this is true. Some things are just so huge, our choices may not matter in the grand scheme of things, and yet they do matter. Everything matters. How we treat people; how we go down swinging; the people we influence in the midst of our heartache and disappointment. This is the great paradox. Can we trust God as we live and make decisions, even when things seem to be going horribly wrong? And yet on the other hand, can we seek to still be good stewards of the choices God has blessed us with? No doubt, for me it is a “both—and” proposition. God is sovereign, and yet I must seek to make faithful choices. In this case, Jacob acts out of fear. Can anyone blame him? Absolutely not. But is it the right choice? Probably not, and why? Because Jacob does not have full knowledge. Where does all of this leave us?
Much like a choir or orchestra has performers who, although they are under the authority and direction of conductor or director, still make mistakes and yet whose minor mistakes are often masked or covered over by the choir or orchestra’s overall performance, we, as life performers must prayerfully seek to discern our Divine conductor’s will or intention and then do our best to faithfully execute it, all the while realizing that we too are in the process of becoming better Spiritual performers, and that as we grow as performers, we still make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will be covered over and never noticed; others will seem to be overly magnified.
I recently witnessed something similar to this when one of perhaps the greatest violin players in the world playing a Mozart composition on one of the greatest and oldest violins in the world started playing the wrong piece within her stringed quintet. Despite being one of the best in the world, she made a mistake. When it was obvious to both her and her accompanying musicians that she was NOT playing the correct piece, she stopped, smiled, seemed a bit embarrassed, but then turned to the correct page and began playing beautifully once again. It was a mistake that everyone witnessed; there was no getting around it. Despite being one of the best in the world, she had made a mistake-not in her playing ability, but in playing the wrong number, but she soon recovered and the concert continued on magnificently. We still have an obligation to seek the director’s will or intention, and yet, we do not always get it right. We are human. We make mistakes. We are NOT perfect, and yet we MUST choose and learn to choose well, and our held accountable for our poor choices. Seek God, do the best we can, trust his grace and learn.
Thanks … First, I must give thanks. Once again, God, in his magnificent grace and provision, through the maturity and kindness of my Spiritual family, has dragged my rear end from out of the fiery furnace. I am alive. I am NOT dead. Second, he has allowed me to providentially find some of my Spiritually missing or lost sheep. Third, I was allowed to, for the most part, successfully experiment with my “Elijah worship” this Sunday. Shann probably should not have given me the idea of splitting some of songs with Scripture. I probably would have done this aspect of it less. Instead of doing it with every song, I might have done it only once or twice. But for simplification purposes, we did it with every song. Other than that, missing a Hollywood budget for more sophisticated sound, visual and special effects and not as many people as I would have hoped to have been there to experience or enjoy it (which seemed odd in and of itself; I thought we promoted it enough ahead of time and through a variety of means, but apparently whatever we did was NOT convincing enough for some), Spiritually, and from the comments we received afterwards, I thought we hit a grand slam. We conveyed one of Scripture’s great stories of Spiritual deliverance via the background of some incredibly worshipful and content-supportive music. My prayer is that for those prophet or Elisha-types that were there, we Scripturally, cognitively and emotionally anchored a mighty truth within the Spiritual backbones of their consciousness and consciences–that regardless of the times or how dark or immoral the times can and will become, they remember this story…this moment…this moment of truth and power when one man courageously stood up to the forces of darkness, as well as, the persuadable middle, and demonstrated before all that indeed Yahweh God is the true God…that everything else is a cheap imitation.
Struggle… it feels like too many lost or missing sheep, or they are wandering too far from or fooling around for too long away from the Spiritual ark. No way, can anyone miss this much Spiritual accountability and expect to remain Spiritually faithful, alive, vigilant, fresh and alert. Gray is interpreted as light and black as gray. And there is NO cheating sin or righteousness. While there is forgiveness…thank God…discipline demands pain and consequences. Bring my lost and missing sheep back home, Lord, or help me to know how to go and find them. Help me to speak truth in love…Allow the Holy Spirit to convict (as your Son taught his disciples he would) and bring my sheep home. Bring them home.
Bring them home. All of them…
Truth… 1) That while there is some truth to paybacks, God and life seem to be much more complicated than fate, karma or divine justice within this life. This doesn’t mean there are NOT consequences to my choices. If I risk driving in the left lane for any significant amount of time, I could kill, be killed or risk an accident or traffic ticket. Choosing to drive in the left lane is a choice. Now I may have to momentarily drive there, if road construction crews direct me to drive there or perhaps to avoid an accident in the right lane, but those are the exceptions. Can or does God discipline us much later for previous sins or choices outside the natural consequences? Perhaps. This is really beyond me. But even bad things can happen to normally good people. This is NOT heaven, and this is NOT hell. At times, it seems life can approximate either, but for any length of time, existence on this earth is a hybrid. Heaven with some hell or hell with some heaven.
Bottom line constant: Joseph remained true to his righteous nature and character throughout his “bitter years” and now in his fruitful years. Joseph’s brothers acted incredibly unrighteously when they sold their brother into slavery and deceived their father by saying he had been killed. It is by God’s grace that this was NOT the end of the story. And perhaps that is the way God or life is with us. What we interpret as misfortune is NOT misfortune at all, but God’s ultimate, but perhaps painful redemption. We are all sinners, in need of painful intervention in order to grow up and change. In the end, pain should drive us to God. This is our only salvation.
2) As far as Jacob acting out of fear to not risk losing another son when in actuality by allowing Benjamin to go to Egypt in order redeem his brother Simeon from Joseph’s bondage, he will gain all three sons back, decisions can’t be slam dunk. Despite the fears, despite the risks, we must process the difficult decisions through God via prayer and then do the best we can. Our security, our happiness, our joy is NOT in keeping the child safe, but in trusting and obeying God.
Application… 1) See my lost sheep NOT as a bad thing, but something God can and will use for a greater purpose; 2) prayerfully bring each lost sheep before the Lord to see who, when, where, why and how in my hopes of retrieving them. They are God’s lost sheep ultimately, and if he wants to find them, then ask God if he wants to use me to find them by his terms and NOT my own.
Biggest Struggle at the moment:
How does what happen here relate to you?
What about your kids?
Biggest Struggles (Imagine these or several–put yourself in their shoes–walk through a day with them at school, at home. What might they encounter?)
Now how does what happen here possibly relate/ (Remember this is only to give you a feel or an introductory hook or a reinforcing took; in there looking, they may come up with something entirely different.)
Remember to have fun, sense the Spirit’s leading and develop a love for these kids.
As always, thanks!
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org).