Monthly Archives: February 2020
Readings: Exodus 1:8; 2:1-4; Hebrews 11:22-29
In my Jewish studies module years ago, we had a lovely Rabbi who taught us. He’s the one who gave me a lift home once and offered me a job. There was a shortage of rabbis at the time. His words were something like this: “it only requires a small operation”. As you can see I stayed with the Presbyterians.
I remember him very distinctly referring to this line in Exodus 1 as a key shift in the story and drama of his people. I’ll say it the way he said it because it’s much more authentic. And to see if you can pick it up. I’ll give you a clue – list for the last word which is a name.
וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף
“There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”
Genesis 50 ends with Joseph being embalmed in Egypt. Surely people would remember the one who saved them from famine in such an amazing way. The one who dreamed a dream.
The one who was at Pharaoh’s right hand and had all that power. They must have told the story in Egypt. That cup bearer surely remembered Joseph, or did he forget again like he did the first-time causing Joseph to spend an extra two years in prison?
That’s if you take the word “know” as “know about”. There are people who have no idea about their history – or the history of a nation and its heritage. It happens here – the Christian heritage is blotted out from peoples’ memories because the stories are not passed down. It makes it all the more urgent to tell them – teach them – remind people – giving them reasons for the hope that we have – because God is still at work in this country. And of course families have to pass on the story of faith to children and grandchildren.
But there’s another possible layer to that word “know”. It can also mean that he did not look with approval, or did not want to acknowledge his contribution. You know how we say that someone just doesn’t want to know something.
Either way this is about change. This is life. You have agreements – the next generation disregards them. You have a boss and a new one comes and everything changes.
Change is constant everywhere. That’s why the essence of the Christian faith is trust, and hope and not certainty or predictability.
You get changes at work, or move from work to no work. Changes in life when someone dies. Changes in health. Changes in marital status, things that shake your world and can shatter your confidence or self-esteem.
We have to hold on to God’s promises, just has Joseph did when he was dying held to the promises – remember from last week? Gen 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Things can change suddenly – our white island volcano may erupt any day when we’re not expecting it. And especially when change happens, God raises up a new way through the wilderness or the flood or the fire – whatever the challenge is.
He always steps in.
This new king has a plan to kill the Hebrews babies. God raises up brave midwives who save so many of them.
We can’t read this whole story in one day. I just know that losing babies for any reason is one of the most appalling traumas and engenders huge deep grinding grief.
In the midst of terrible treatment of the slaves and this treacherous plan to kill babies, you get these verses of hope at the end of Exodus 1.
Listen as the story continues:
Exo 1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, Exo 1:16 “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” Exo 1:17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exo 1:18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” Exo 1:19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Exo 1:20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. Exo 1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Of course, there have to be more than two midwives. Otherwise it would be a bit hectic like places in New Zealand where there aren’t enough of them. But this story records these two specifically. I love their answer about the Hebrew women being more vigorous than the Egyptian ones.
I love that they fear God and take risks in the face of tyranny.
But it gets worse in verse 22 as all people are ordered to kill these baby boys:
Exo 1:22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
You can imagine families listening to this being read to them as Jewish families passed on the story. How awful to imagine such cruelty.
But as the kids take a breather and go for a quick drink of water, they can come back to listen to the ongoing story.
Chapter 2: (says the reader/dad)
Exo 2:1 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, Exo 2:2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. Exo 2:3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Exo 2:4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
This unnamed couple have a son. Of course he was a fine child. Every baby is beautiful! This is their third baby, and he must have looked really special.
The writer to the Hebrews backs this up in 11:23: (ESV) Heb 11:23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The NIV has this: Heb_11:23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The child was exceptional, elegant, well formed (in the Latin).
I love this passage. There is a sense of expectancy in the midst of their crisis here:
- There is this unusual child, as some of the translations say.
- Jochebed – the mother whose name we hear of later, hides him for three months. How do you do that. Did he never bleep?
- Miriam – the sister, well listen to the message’s version:
The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. She was probably about 15.
Such anticipation. Mum sticks your brother in a basket in a river probably with crocodiles in it and you cross your fingers.
They would have no idea what the outcome would be. Or did they?
Sometimes things can be overwhelming and we wonder – what difference can I really make? It’s all too much. This world has crazy things happening right now.
There are heroes in this story who would have also felt their world was going nuts.
- Midwives are not supposed to kill babies.
- Mums are not supposed to put your baby in a basket in a river and let him float away.
- Men are not supposed to be treated so ruthlessly as those Hebrew slaves were treated.
Let’s hear the end of this chapter of the story as we end today and come to the table which symbolizes God saving people in hopeless situations through the cross of Christ.
This is the point of it all. God does work in impossible situations.
The outcome is neat. Precious really. Listen. Here’s the last reading for today:
Miriam is watching on tippy toes (v4). Imagine dad reading this to the kids before bed. They might have said “what happened next?”
Here it is.
Exo 2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. Exo 2:6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Exo 2:7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Exo 2:8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Exo 2:9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. Exo 2:10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Perfect. What a great ending.
The baby killer’s daughter takes him out the river.
Young Miriam bravely offers to get a nurse for him – Moses’ mother– and there it is. The baby killer’s daughter even pays Moses’ mum a wage to nurse him. By about the end of his second year or maybe even the third she would give her son back to a princess.
God was at work. Using whoever he chooses for his purposes.
There’s a South African saying that goes like this: “Moenie worry nie, watch net.” Don’t worry, just watch this.
Be like Miriam at the river side watching on tip does to see what will happen to a three month old boy in a river at a time when he had a death sentence on him.
We used to sing this song by “Living Sound” years ago: “God can do it again and again and again, He’s he same God today as he ever has been, yesterday and today, now forever ever the same, God can do it again and again and again.”
What did I say earlier? There is no certainty in life that we can depend on – only faith. The centre of the Christian faith is not certainty or predictability, but faith – trust and hope. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen” (KJV) or “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV)
- Kings that don’t “know Joseph” are always rising up in the land.
- People in power will always manipulate the truth to get what they want (the Hebrews weren’t really getting to be more numerous than the Egyptians. It’s almost as if they become reclassified by today’s political standards as terrorists.
- Change is certain, and what does that call us to? It calls us to trust, to trust the Lord of the covenant who is constant in His love and in His self-giving in the midst of change.
- And the people in this story must speak to us about our capacity to make a difference whoever we are and however humble our position in life. There are five great women in this account who have no great power but yet have great influence (our Famous Five if you like).
Moses’ mother Jochebed, (named later in Exo 6:20) Shiphrah and Puah the midwives. Miriam the 15-year-old big sister. And The Egyptian princess.
it’s been described been described as a “cross-cultural intergenerational alliance of these women”. Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and the Pharaoh’s daughter who all disobey the king. Our famous five live out faith with genius and courage.
A commentator writes this: “God uses what the patriarchal and power-hungry Pharaohs of the world consider as low and despised in their eyes (Hebrew women) as instruments to shame and overthrow the arrogant and the strong.” (Dennis Olson)
You get a similar theme of the lowly over throwing the strong in the prayers of two other famous women – Hannah and Mary. (Our famous five become the super seven!)
Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10) – 1Sa 2:7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1Sa 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world. 1Sa 2:9 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails;
Mary – Luk 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord Luk 1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, Luk 1:48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, Luk 1:52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
Paul continues along the same lines in 1 Corinthians 1. – 1Co 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 1Co 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Co 1:28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 1Co 1:29 so that no one may boast before him.
And there’s this lovely connection with the bigger story. The word for boat/basket for baby Moses is only used one other time – and it’s the word for the ark (Noah’s ark).
And Moses’ is named by the princess (traditionally his parent name for him is said to have been Joachim.) And Moses (Mashah – Moshe) – means “one who draws out” – pointing forward as he will draw them out of Egypt. The Exodus story is that rescue.
More about Moses next time. The plot will thicken!
For today let’s remind ourselves of the one greater than Moses who is our rescuer as we come to the Lord’s table. We meet here with Jesus who also modelled humility before victory is totally trustworthy and he empowers us too.
Watch and see what God can do in our generation.
Through ordinary people like us.
Readings: Genesis 37:3-8; Genesis 50: 15-21; Romans 8:28
INTENDED FOR GOOD
We look for a couple of words – a sermon title or thought – to put on the notice board outside every week.. I suggested “Happy Families”. We opted for something else eventually. “Intended for Good:.
Do you remember playing happy families?
I had to google the rules: The player whose turn it is asks another player for a specific card. If the asked player has the card, he gives it to the requester and the requester can then ask any player for another card. If the asked player does not have the card, it becomes his turn and he asks another player for a specific card. Play continues in this way until no families are separated among different players. The player with the most cards wins. (Clear as mud).
One of the rules states that a player cannot ask for a certain card to deceive any player if he does not have a card in the set he is asking for.
How funny is that.
We’ve looked a bit at the life of Jacob. His dream of a staircase to heaven at Bethel. His wrestling with God at Peniel. His limp. Like a thorn in the flesh it was a constant reminder of his vulnerability. We looked at Paul’s saying – “when I am weak then I am strong.”
Jacob is renamed Israel. The one who struggled with God and prevailed? Although we said that the name actually meant that God prevailed.
Well he does doesn’t he? Ultimately. We were joking this week about the idea that some people have that when we get to see God we will have it out with him about all the things he could have done better. Moses, Jonah, Job – all found out that God ultimately prevails.
It’s in the family that some of the toughest things are handed out.
It makes sense really. Family is our main place of operation for care, nurture, education and training, passing on of the faith, shaping society – the list goes on.
It’s the obligation we can’t shake off. Parenting especially, or being a parent. You know my favourite story of the lady who turned 100 who when asked said the best year of her life was when she turned 90 – because all her children in that year were safely in a rest home.
You can’t divorce your parents or kids. As much as you may like to.
The irony of “no deception” allowed in the card game “happy families’ is of course that the family of Isaac – Jacob, Esau, and then Jacob’s 12 sons – they all seemed to specialize in deception.
It started with Abraham passing off his wife as his sister. More than once (Gen 12 and 20).
It is seen in Jacob’s and his mum Rebekah scheming – in the stealing of Esau’s birthright and blessing.
Jacob’s return to face the music – to face Esau – is also tainted with subterfuge. Remember he splits the family and people into two groups – probably so that if one gets destroyed at least the other will survive. He sends gifts to curry favour with his brother who you will remember wanted to kill him.
Jacob’s family is a real muddle.
It has all the classic signs of a modern family.
- Irritatingly arrogant teenagers
It gets worse with the brothers plan to kill the irritating favourite brat. Never mind the fancy coat, those dreams just were too much.
Gen 37:8 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.
We had readings from each end of the story of course. There are 12 chapters between our two readings (although you can leave out chapter 38). It’s the longest saga in Genesis and the whole bible. It must be there for a reason.
What major themes can we consider?
Human unfaithfulness or disloyalty is one. It runs through the story. His brothers are less than loyal selling him. Potiphar’s wife is hardly honest. Even the chief cupbearer who didn’t get his head lopped off forgets Joseph which means he spends an extra two years in jail. The lies of the brother to their father must be the low point in that whole story. Interesting how a goat features both in the deception of Jacob’s father (the skin of the goat is used to trick him into thinking he is touching Esau’s hairy arm) – and a goat is killed so that Joseph’s coat can be dipped in blood to support the lie that he has been taken and devoured by wild animals.
A stronger theme in the whole story is that God is present and active even in the midst of suffering.
God is clearly with Joseph from the beginning. He is singled out for some kind of destiny and gifted. His dreams are sent from God (Gen 27:5-11).
In Genesis 39-40, we see again and again that God is with him and has chosen him.
- “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Genesis 39:2a),
- “His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” (Genesis 39:3)
- “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:21a)
- “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” (Genesis 39:23)
In chapter 40-41, God is especially with him during his tough times and suffering. He can interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners, although there is some irony as both have their heads lifted up, one to success and the other to execution. Finally, he can interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams.
This gift, too, is a sign of God’s presence with Joseph, as Joseph himself declares: “Do not interpretation belong to God?” (40:8).
The repeated point is clear for the reader – God was with him, especially in his suffering.
We often pray that God will be with people in need or a crisis – which is a bit odd as he already is with us as believers. I think what we intend really is that God will be with them to help them make sense of the struggles and get through with a sense of purpose and a dose of courage.
The key thing is that the Lord takes Joseph to a better place through this. His presence is transformative. It makes a difference.
God meets Joseph in his suffering, but God does not leave Joseph there. God enters into the situation to bring Joseph out of it, to another and better place. And most importantly – along the way God blesses others through Joseph. It’s a “blessed to be a blessing” thing. It’s central to our whole faith.
He survives and he thrives – the presence of God has great influence and effect.
First Potiphar and his household, later the chief jailer and all those in prison, and finally Pharaoh and all of Egypt.
It’s all part of his family’s identity and covenant promise – to Abraham and Sarah – that they and their descendants would be blessed and that through them, all the nations of the earth would also be blessed.
And for our “happy families” theme today, Joseph’s brothers especially receive blessing through him. Especially since they don’t deserve it.
THE PATH IS DIFFICULT
The challenges Joseph faces are still pretty awful. Being sold into slavery. Separated from those he loved and in a foreign country. False charges of unfaithfulness and prison.
The deception is there right at the end though after Jacob dies – the brothers are still scheming in their fear that now that dad is gone Joseph may actually take revenge.
So they make up a lie – with a story of what their dead father was supposed to have said. Joseph wept – is one of those lines that display another side of this very smart and powerful man.
In fact it’s surprising how often he weeps – privately, publicly, and in this case in front of his family. I remember seeing my dad cry – for different reasons. I must have been about 10. We were listening to a radio program and it was the unjust suffering of an innocent man that brought on his tears. I’ll never forget it. (My passion for justice and fairness must have come from somewhere.)
The climax of this tale is verse 20 of chapter 50: Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
One American commentator writing on this story said this – even a jerk doesn’t deserve to be thrown into a pit to die. There is no justification for the violence in this family. There are brief redeeming factors – like Reuben who wants to rescue Joseph and bring him back to his father – but he is not a hero for long. He slips into the deception.
But it is pretty extreme.
I don’t know what challenges you face in your life and especially in your family life. But I do know this. As God used sinful human intentions and actions for good ultimately in Joseph’s life, he is also with us in our worst situations.
- In the pit.
- Trapped in our prisons.
- Facing betrayal and cruelty.
Maybe you’ve got this amazingly perfect family. I don’t know.
I remember one year after getting too many family Christmas letters from friends extolling the virtues of their children and their incredible achievements, I wrote a very short one saying that only my dog deserved mention as being well behaved and fulfilling her dogness that year.
I do know some of your stories though.
After almost nine years you do get to know peoples’ pain. The complexities of adoption (there are many of us in that category). Children who reject what we teach them and what we stand for – especially in their turning away from God. Who reject us sometimes.
Physical pain and suffering – we’ve shared a lot together. Nearly losing people in medical crises. Loved ones dying of cancer. Failed businesses, being retrenched, depression, financial struggles, unfaithfulness and divorce that we don’t really want. Having children far away whom we love and don’t see. Strokes, accidents, grandchildren having to have limbs amputated, medical diagnoses that are both daunting and shocking, and some who have lost more than one sibling for various reasons. Plus rejection and people who won’t reconcile. And people who are toxic and dangerous who harass us.
God is in the midst. I can’t promise that he will fix the things we would love to see fixed, or when he may do that.
But I won’t be moved – in the sense of being thrown off course – by those who seek to harm us whether deliberately, or those who are probably too stupid and selfish to know how hurtful they can be.
But if we learn anything from Joseph – it’s about God with us and using what others intend for evil for good.
He doesn’t cause these troubles or want them for us.
But just as he was with his son on the cross, he is with us.
He will have his way and he will work things for good.
- Be encouraged. And don’t give up as you trust him.
- Don’t let anyone rob you of the strength and joy, the peace and security, that is ours in Christ.
- Don’t let people steal your hope.
- Dig into your bibles – into the promises of God.
Joseph never let go of them. Even at the end this is what we read:
Gen 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Prayer of the day: God of dreams and hope, You spoke to Joseph in his dreams, and those dreams led him to great danger. Yet you used the challenges in his life to save the lives of others. In you, no good thing is accidental. You work in us and through us, even when we are not aware of your presence. Help us to know that you are with us, and that only you are capable of turning all evil to good. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.