Week of Jan. 22: The unfolding promise will continue to be fulfilled
By THE REV. SAM AND HELEN ROGERS
Scripture: Genesis 50:15-26
Background Scripture: Genesis 50:1-26
With this lesson we bring Genesis—“the book of beginnings”—and the story of the Patriarchs to a close. Jacob has died and is embalmed in the Egyptian style. (Joseph will be also.) His body is carried with great love and affection back to Canaan. There he is laid to rest in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron. All of this is done with Pharaoh’s approval. All the sons of Jacob (Israel), which includes Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, went and did what Jacob had asked. There he is laid to rest with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Leah. (Remember, Rachel was buried while traveling near Bethlehem.)
At the point where today’s scripture begins, a strange thing happens! His brothers are afraid of Joseph. Although they have received his forgiveness 17 years before for their vile act, they are still afraid of him. Like so many Christians today, we feel we have to keep asking God for forgiveness. We just do not accept the gift of forgiveness Christ gave to all at Calvary. Forgiveness is universal—God’s offer is for everyone! “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise…. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (II Peter3:9)
The brothers still do not believe that Joseph has truly forgiven them. When he heard their message, Joseph cried! Why is it so hard for us to forgive or to receive forgiveness? Here is evidence reconciliation has not been achieved. This realization breaks Joseph’s heart!
Only when the brothers come in repentance does the full healing occur! As was stated last week, repentance is not a prerequisite for forgiveness! Repentance makes possible the restoration of relationship! As it is here with Joseph and his brothers, so it is with us and God. God has shown his love and forgiveness at the Cross. He, like the father of the prodigal, is waiting for us to come to ourselves and come home. The love and forgiveness are always there! He is waiting for our realization of the brokenness, and repentance heals the breech.
Again, God’s forgiveness is universal. Salvation is not! Salvation depends on our acceptance of the gift of a restored relationship. The brothers see themselves as slaves of Joseph, prostrating themselves before him. Rightfully, he rebukes them by assuring them that he is not God! Then Joseph says, even more powerfully, what he had said when he revealed his identity to them earlier. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” This time the brothers not only heard the message, but accepted it! The family is preserved. The unfolding promise will continue to be fulfilled.
The visibility of the promise is real for Joseph and for us. He holds in his arms the children of Makir, son of Manasseh. These are his great-grandchildren! Here are six generations from Abraham! Count them: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), Joseph, Manasseh, Makir, and the babies on his knee.
As Joseph ages, he trusts what God will do. He accepts his own mortality, but the promise will endure. With the eyes of faith, he sees the exodus of the family (nation) back to Canaan—the land of promise. He does not know the details. He has no way of knowing the horror of the bondage awaiting them as they remain in Egypt. All he knows is the God in whom he trusts! That God will keep his word: “so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire.” (Isaiah 55:11). Again: “the grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
God has a plan, but humans must do their part. Many factors enter into the way the plan unfolds. Sometimes human actions thwart the plan—temporarily! In this story, we see how Joseph refused to let sin have the last word. The people of God can trust, in the midst of sin and evil, for God to pursue his purposes for good. (Romans 8:28)
James Russell Lowell said this poetically in “Once to Every Man and Nation.”
Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet ‘tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above his own.
Joseph refuses to allow his brothers to put themselves in an inferior relationship to him. What a temptation we have to be superior to someone else. Constantly the sin of power and pride works its malignant way into our human relationships! Politics, race, economics, sex, family—none of these are immune to our wanting to take control over others. Again and again the brothers called themselves “slaves”, but again and again Joseph called them brothers! We are family—the family of God—and in the family there is no room for superior/inferior relationships. Paul used a different metaphor with the same meaning. He called us the Body of Christ! One head—many members. Each has an important role, but none more significant than another. When superiority raises its ugly head, healthy relationships are impossible.
With the death of Joseph, this act of the biblical drama ends. However, it’s not the final act, only intermission. Joseph’s last request will be granted. His body will be carried home. His people, God’s people, will be led by God’s hand to the land of promise. In God’s good time, a Savior will come—and death will have no hold over Him. The Biblical drama will go on and on. Each new generation of God’s people in the church of God’s Son will be a new “genesis”.