Moses Meets “I AM”

Posted: September 20, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 3, “Moses Meets I AM”

We refer to the event as “Moses and the Burning Bush,” but if we think about what’s actually included in the text, the title misses the point. Obviously Moses’ attention was caught by the burning bush (as we’ll see), but the main event was the revelation, presence, and commissioning of Almighty God. Moses is certainly seen in Exodus 3, but he isn’t the main character; the “I AM” is.

The Lord God appears in the burning bush for a reason: to call Moses to the ministry appointed for him, and to reassure His people that God has heard their prayers. For 400 years, it seemed as if God had been silent…no more! God spoke, and what He said changed the world!

The book of Exodus began with the children of Israel in Egypt. No longer were they a large clan headed by a single patriarch (Jacob/Israel); they had grown into a large nation. So large, in fact, that their population growth scared the native Egyptians, and the Pharaoh instituted the first anti-Israel pogrom in history. The Hebrews were enslaved, forced into hard labor – and when that did not slow the population, the Pharaoh ordered every Hebrew newborn son killed at birth. Thankfully, the Hebrew midwives disobeyed, fearing God more than Pharaoh…but it didn’t stop the Egyptian king. He ordered a more direct approach: commanding that every newborn son be cast into the river.

Into all of this, Moses was born. Through a series of God-directed events, Moses’ life was not only preserved, but he was adopted into the royal household of Egypt with his own birth-mother serving as his nursemaid. As the years passed, Moses’ life would be preserved once more by God – this time due to Moses’ own impetuous behavior. Thinking he could act as a Hebrew deliverer, Moses killed an Egyptian who was caught beating a Hebrew. Not only was Moses’ act unappreciated by his kinsmen, it endangered him with Pharaoh, and he fled for his life. By God’s providence, Moses found safety with the priest of Midian. Moses wed one of his daughters and settled into the life of a shepherd.

Moses was 40 years old when he left Egypt, and he spent the next 40 years in Midian as a shepherd. What now? Was that it? With his background, Moses had assumed he was destined to be a national deliverer, but perhaps he was wrong. Maybe he was always meant to be a shepherd, having a quiet life like many honorable ranchers today. Maybe Moses’ initial thoughts were wrong.

They weren’t. Where Moses went wrong was where many of us go wrong: being unwilling to wait on the timing of God. He (like us) wanted to rush into things, doing it his way, and then became disillusioned when things fell apart. (Sound familiar?) What Moses needed to do was wait. Now the time was right – not just for Moses, but for all Israel. God had not forgotten any of them. He had everything perfectly planned, and things would proceed according to His own timetable.

Trust the plans of God! Don’t lose faith in Him or in His works. God is the “I AM” – there is nothing that is beyond Him!

Exodus 3

  • God’s presence and proclamation (1-10)

1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

  1. From royal court to shepherd’s field. Quite the change! According to historian Josephus, at one point Moses led the Egyptian army to victory over the Ethiopians. (Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 10) He went from being an adopted royal son and celebrated military general, to being an infamous fugitive, and from being an infamous fugitive to an obscure shepherd living in the backwaters of the ancient near east. Moses’ 2nd 40 years were vastly different to his 1st 40 years! In Egypt, he learned his academics and worldly prowess; in Midian he learned humility and service. He went from commanding soldiers to caring for sheep. No doubt, it was his latter experience that best prepared him to lead Israel!
    1. Due to our shorter lifespans, it can be difficult for us to imagine. After all, at 80 years old, most of us are preparing to meet our Maker; we certainly don’t imagine embarking on a 3rd career! Yet for Moses at 80 years old, he was just getting started…and from a place he could have hardly imagined. Don’t discount the ways God can use you! When God wants to use someone, He does – no matter what his/her background or supposed abilities. Maybe the time you’re in today is a proving/preparing ground for something God has for you in the future. Or, maybe He’ll have you stay right where you are…that’s all up to Him. Just do the most with what you have! Glorify God right where you are, and leave the rest to Him!
  2. Although it can be a bit confusing, Jethro = Reuel, and Mount Horeb = Mount Sinai. It’s uncertain why the Bible uses different names to refer to the same people/locations, but it wasn’t all that uncommon. It’s not uncommon for us, either. In DFW, the loop can either be Interstate 635 or LBJ Freeway. Sometimes people are referred to by their titles (Doctor, Judge, President), sometimes by a nickname, and sometimes by their given name. It should be no surprise that ancient people did the same thing.
  3. Where is Horeb/Sinai? That’s a matter of much debate! Some say that it is located in the Sinai Peninsula (though the actual mountain within a particular mountain range is debated), and some say it ought to be closer to, if not in, modern-day Saudi Arabia (and again, various locations are suggested). Note: Horeb/Sinai need not be in Midian (in fact, the Bible indicates that it was not, for Jethro later left Sinai to return to his home in Midian, Exo 18:27); it just needs to be accessible to Midian. Exodus 3:1 says that Moses went “to the back of the desert,” meaning the far-off, hinder parts. It wasn’t unusual for shepherds to lead their sheep far from home (per Joseph having to travel so far away to find his brothers, Gen 37:17). Moses could have to any one of the proposed locations, with the text still being accurate.
    1. The location of Mt. Sinai was known for generations: Elijah went to Sinai when he fled Jezebel (1 Kings 19), and even Paul mentioned that Mt. Sinai was located in Arabia (Gal 4:25 – in which the Sinai Peninsula was included). In the end, does it really matter if we know the exact location of Mt. Sinai? The truth of the account does not hinge on the identification of the mountain, and having an unquestioned location only opens the door to potential idolatry. Ultimately, we do not need an archeological site for Mt. Sinai; we look forward to the heavenly Mt. Zion and the New Jerusalem!
  4. So Moses was doing what he always did for the past forty years: tending sheep in the wilderness. He had gone far from home (not unusual), but was going about his daily business. That’s when something truly unusual happened.

2 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

  1. The Angel of YHWH appeared, but this was a very different kind of appearance. Instead of taking human form as He had with Hagar & Abraham (Gen 16, Gen 22), He appeared “in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.” Perhaps the Angel took the form of a man from inside the fire in the bush, but the text does not specify. All it says is that the Angel appeared in the flame, and from verse 4 we know that this Angel was God. With that in mind, put it together: if God had a visible appearance to Moses, who did Moses see? Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), so this must have been a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son. The Son did not officially (and eternally) take on human flesh until He became a baby in Mary’s womb, so He could previously appear in any fashion He chose. This time, it was a flame, and a special one at that: it was a flame of fire that did not consume the bush in which it was kindled.
  2. Now that would have stood out! (And it certainly got Moses’ attention!) Remember that Moses was in the desert/wilderness. A dried-up bush ought to have been consumed by fire in a matter of seconds, yet it endured. It persevered as though it was not harmed in the slightest. It was a visual paradox & oxymoron. Yet it was perfect! Normally, if we think of God’s holiness like fire, we would assume instant consumption and destruction. After all, the Scriptures proclaim that God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). So why would God be in a burning bush that was not consumed? Again: it showed preservation – protection. God is truly holy, but the delicate bush was not harmed. This is nothing less than a picture of grace! God chose to be revealed in the bush, and He chose that the bush remain, so it did. What a great picture to set the stage for His call to Moses! God chose this imperfect man Moses, just like God chose this imperfect people of Israel – and His choice was for grace, love, protection, and blessing. God is truly holy and set apart from His people, but He was inviting them to worship Him in truth, and inviting Moses to be a part of His plan. This wasn’t something any of them deserved, but it was what God chose to give.
    1. God has chosen to give us grace! Do we deserve anything from God other than His wrath? Absolutely not. We deserve to be consumed in holy fire, to be burned up in angry, yet holy, justice. But because of the grace of Jesus, we aren’t. Because of Jesus we are not consumed. Instead, we are purified – we are made holy by His wondrous work. Moses saw a picture of the grace of God; we live it!

4 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”

  1. Moses did the natural thing, which was to come near and look. That was when he heard the voice of YHWH God speak to him, commanding him to remove his shoes. Not that Moses’ sandals were inherently sinful; this was a symbolic act of the sin that was inherent in Moses himself. By removing the unclean sandals, it was an act of reverence for God’s holy presence.
  2. And that’s the key. Sixty seconds prior, there was nothing special about that piece of ground. It was just mountain dirt and a dried-up bush – the same as hundreds of others Moses had passed by. What made it special? The presence of God. What had been common was now utterly holy. What had been earthly was now touched by heavenly glory. The presence of God made all the difference.
    1. How true this is on so many other levels for the Christian! Remember who you are in Christ: a child of God, both born of the Spirit and given the Spirit of adoption – a co-heir with Jesus in His inheritance. Our bodies as believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit as He actually indwells us, having sealed us for eternity. Put it all together, and what are we? Holy! No doubt we still deal with our sinful nature, struggling with the person we used to be, but in Christ we have been transformed from the inside-out – we have been made new creations. What made the difference? The presence of God. You want to talk about grace? How about this: Almighty God lives inThat’s grace!

6 Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.

  1. Remember that although Moses was raised in the polytheistic royal house of Egypt, Moses had always known he was a Hebrew. His mother was his nursemaid, and as a younger man Moses attempted to act on behalf of the Hebrews. Even so, there is no indication in the Bible that Moses had any sort of previous relationship of worship with God. He knew the Hebrew history with the covenant God, but it’s impossible to know what Moses believed of that God. All of that changed in an instant! Whatever Moses may have thought about God in the past, all of a sudden he had the true God revealing Himself and speaking. The God speaking through the bush is THE God! He is the one spoken of throughout all the Hebrew history, the covenant God of Moses’ fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (And as Jesus pointed out, the fact that God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is proof that all the patriarchs still live. ~ Mk 12:26)
  2. Moses’ response? Fear, and justifiably so! After all, if God gave you a visual revelation, you would be afraid to look, too! Question: What kind of fear did Moses have? There’s a difference between a healthy fear of fire, and an unhealthy fear of clowns (coulrophobia). The Hebrew word translates exactly as we might think: “fear, be in awe,” and depending on the context it could even refer to “terror” or other extreme forms of fright. Interestingly, the ancient Jews who translated the Hebrew into Greek did not use a parallel word that might suggest a similar range of emotion (φόβος ~ phobia); instead, they used a word that spoke more specifically of “reverent regard,” rather than outright terror. They seemed to believe that Moses had a healthy righteous fear of God, rather than an unhealthy fright. How can we tell the difference? Moses was afraid to look upon God, but he didn’t run away. No matter how afraid Moses may have been, he feared God enough to know he couldn’t leave. A healthy fear of God drives us to God; an unhealthy fear does not.
    1. Some people claim that God isn’t to be feared; He’s to be loved. The Bible makes no such distinction. To properly fear the Lord is to love Him, and it’s impossible to say that we love the Lord if we do not fear Him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), and those who love Jesus keep His commandments (Jn 14:21, implying a righteous fear and obedience). We are to fear the Lord, and we are to fear Him rightly.
    2. What does that look like? It looks like worship, reverence, respect, obedience. Those who fear the Lord delight in God’s word and commands – those who fear the Lord worship God alone, as He has revealed Himself in the Bible (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Those who fear the Lord live their lives in service of the Lord, in whatever capacity the Lord has given them to serve. Fear the Lord!

7 And the LORD said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.

  1. In this, God refers to Exodus 2:24. The Hebrews in Egypt had groaned and cried out in prayer because of their oppression, and God heard their prayers. God saw them, heard their cries, knew their hearts, remembering His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In response, God promised to act. He had “come down.” Being that God is spirit and omnipresent, there is no need for God to literally & physically “descend” from heaven to earth (so to speak). This is symbolic language – God is simply saying He has “come down” in a way that the Hebrews could see. God had always been involved with their situation; now they would see His involvement…and His work would be undeniable!
  2. The end result from all their suffering would be inheritance of the Promised Land. Remember a major part of God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the promise of the land then known as Canaan. The time had come, and the land was good! It was “flowing with milk and honey.” If the Hebrews held fast to God, they would see their home. God had not forgotten His promise; His people needed to prepare themselves to see them come to pass! (Don’t take God’s promises for granted! Don’t let your excitement for the things of God grow cold or routine!

9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

  1. God does not ignore evil. Again, He had heard their cries, and He saw their state. He knew the sufferings they faced, and He would act on their behalf. The Egyptians may have seemed has if they had all the power, but soon they would all learn differently! The Almighty God would be their judge!
  2. And God’s instrument in all of this would be Moses. After revealing Himself to Moses and telling him all about the things He would do for Israel, God made it clear: “Moses, you’re going to be involved!” God had a plan for this 80 year-old shepherd. It wasn’t time for retirement; it was time for redemption!
  3. Obviously that got Moses’ attention as well, and made him more than a bit nervous!
  • God’s person and power (11-15)

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

  1. It’s difficult to blame Moses for his first set of questions. Any one of us might have asked some of the same things. First, Moses recognized his lack of authority. “Who am I?” IOW: “I’m a nobody! I’m a fugitive & a current shepherd. I don’t have any qualifications for this!” And he would have been right. Who was Moses? No one, apart from God. Moses had nothing of his own to offer, and Moses (rightly) knew it. This was quite a change from 40 years earlier! Back in Egypt, Moses attempted to assert his authority, and he was roundly rejected by the Hebrews (Exo 2:14). Earlier, Moses simply assumed he could be in command, probably due to his background. This time, Moses knew better. He didn’t have anything on his own that qualified him to do anything for God, much less lead the people of God.
  2. God’s answer: Moses wasn’t going on his authority; he was going with God. God would be with him, empowering him for the task, and any questions that remained would be answered when the nation returned to Mt. Sinai. The events at Mount Horeb/Sinai would be “a sign” to the children of Israel. Not that the Hebrews would have to wait that long! God gave all kinds of authenticating signs through Moses, including the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. But just in case that wasn’t enough (!), God Himself would personally appear in glory on Mount Sinai in full view of the nation of Israel, and they would hear His voice and tremble. If they wanted to know that Almighty YHWH God had truly sent Moses, they would have their questions answered!
    1. Are we qualified to do anything for God? Not in ourselves! But when we are in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, God goes with us and uses us for His glory!

13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”

  1. Legitimate question. 400 years had passed since Joseph. The knowledge of the true God remained among the children of Israel, but who knows to what extent? They lived in a polytheistic world, so how would they know which god had sent Moses? How would they know that Moses served the true God of their forefathers? Moses asked for a name, and unlike with Jacob in centuries past (Gen 32:29), God gave one.

14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

  1. Who is God? He is “I AM,” the self-existent God. It is the perfect name for God to refer to Himself. Think about it: we are named by our parents, but God has no parents – He simply IS. There was not a moment He came into existence; He has always existed. Everything had a starting point with the exception of God. What better name could He call Himself, other than “I AM”? – “I AM WHO I AM” (אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה), exactly what Jesus referred to when He said to the people of Jerusalem: John 8:58–59, “(58) Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (59) Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”  Why did those Jews pick up stones? Because they understood exactly what Jesus was saying: He was equal with the Almighty I AM who spoke with Moses on the mountain. Jesus, as God the Son, is, was, and is to come – He is I AM!
    1. Is this the God you trust? Is this the God you worship? Not only do people have a tendency to invent their own god (idolatry), but when they do, they make their god too small. The true God isn’t small at all – there is nothing beyond Him, for He is beyond existence itself! The true God is the Creator, the source of all life, the source of everything that can be imagined. Even our imaginations find their origins in Him, for He gives us the capability to think & dream! (How sad we so often use it in rebellion against Him!) Beware the idolatry of a god who’s too small! God is I AM, revealed to us in Jesus Christ. There is nothing that is beyond Him!
  2. This is how God refers to Himself, but how are others to refer to Him? The same way they did back in Genesis in the lives of the patriarchs.

15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’

  1. God refers to Himself as I AM, which makes sense, speaking from the 1st To His covenant people, He is YHWH, commonly written in our Bibles as “the Lord.” Most English Bibles follow the tradition of the LXX, which substituted the word “Lord” (κύριος) for God’s name, which in turn followed the Hebrew tradition of not saying God’s name aloud. (The mispronunciation of “Jehovah” was a result of mistaking the Hebrew convention for this practice.) The name itself is most likely derived from the Hebrew verb for “to be,” making it the 3rd person version of the name God spoke for Himself in the 1st person. To God Himself, He is “I AM;” to His people, His name is “HE IS.” It speaks of His eternal self-existence, and alludes to His promise to always be with us, which leads into the other primary description of God: He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the covenant-keeping God of Israel. HE IS that God, the same “Elohim” and “El Shaddai” of the forefathers – the God who has always existed and the God who has always been with His people.
  2. This is who God is, and who He will always be. He is to be known this way forever, and He is! Even through Jesus, God is still I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. None of that has changed in Jesus; Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When we worship Jesus, we worship the same God that created the world and Who called Abraham to a destiny!
  3. Of course, that destiny still needed to be fulfilled, so God went on to tell Moses how to go about it.
  • God’s plan and promise (16-22)

16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; 17 and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” ’

  1. If any of this sounds familiar, it should. God had just gotten done telling Moses all of these things directly, and now He gives it to Moses to share. Moses was basically to go tell others what God had told him.
  2. Question: Couldn’t all of this have been summarized? God had already mentioned all of these people groups in verse 8. Why mention them all again? It emphasizes that the promised land was already populated. Although the land would be rich with blessing (“flowing with milk and honey”), the children of Israel would have to walk by faith in God in order to receive it. The land was undoubtedly a gift of God, by His grace and His power. There was no way that the Israelites would be able to walk into this land by themselves and claim it as their own; much work was left to be done. But if God could get them out of Egypt, He could surely get them into the Promised Land. What was impossible for men is possible with God, and it’s all due to the grace and power of God.
    1. This is salvation in a nutshell! The picture is one even the author of Hebrews paints, showing that the land of promise was a picture of rest for the Israelites, but it wasn’t the real rest. The real rest was neither the land, nor the day of rest (the Sabbath), but the true rest of God: the rest from working towards salvation (Heb 4:1-10). The true rest is Jesus! But rest is impossible to find, without Jesus. There are too many obstacles in the way, too many masters to which we are enslaved. Israel had to deal with Egypt, and then with the Canaanites; we have to deal with our sin & death, and then the ongoing threat of our fleshly nature. What can we do? Our situation is hopeless…but not in Christ! In Christ, we have rest, peace, freedom, and joy! All of it is due to His grace and His power!
  3. This was the long-term plan Moses was to share with the elders; there was also a short-term plan for the time being.

18 Then they will heed your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’

  1. The initial plan: Moses and the Hebrew elders were to ask Pharaoh for a 3-day journey. They’d go into the wilderness, worship God and (presumably) return. Was this deceitful? It was supposed to be a test run, giving Pharaoh the opportunity to show mercy. If Pharaoh responded in kindness, then the next step would be taken at that point. As it was, God knew Pharaoh wouldn’t do it.

19 But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go.

  1. From the outset, God knew Pharaoh’s response. He knew Pharaoh would say “no,” and harden his heart against the command of God. Question: if God knew, why did God still command Moses to ask? Answer: Because God is gracious! God knows the end from the beginning, being totally outside of (or unconstrained) by time. There is not a single thing we can say or do that God has not known from before the foundation of the world. That means He knows all our decisions before we ever decide them. It does not mean that He is responsible for our bad decisions. He often gives us the opportunity to do what is right before we do what is wrong. Sometimes, He gives us over to those things (Rom 1), which will be demonstrated in the life of Pharaoh. But Pharaoh (nor any of us) can claim that God never gave us the opportunity to do what is right. God is gracious and just, and He always does what is right.
  2. Not only did God know Pharaoh’s choice, God obviously knew His own plan. God’s plan to free His people from Egypt had been eternally decreed, and He knew that it would take a terrible demonstration of His powerful wrath before Pharaoh would let Israel go. Countless lives would be lost (including Pharaoh’s own firstborn son), and the nation of Egypt brought to ruin before it would happen, but eventually, Pharaoh would let Israel go. God knew what had to be done, and He didn’t hesitate to do it.
  3. In all of this, what was it God made clear to Moses: Freedom would come, but it would only come via God’s power. God’s power brings freedom. Unless God moved in a mighty way, using “all [His] wonders,” Israel would remain enslaved. But when God moved, nothing would stand in His way.
    1. Once again, we cannot help but make the parallel to our salvation. Before we know Jesus, we are enslaved to our own sin – we are enslaved to a future of eternal death and hell. Unless God moves on our behalf in a mighty way, we’re doomed. But God’s power brings freedom! The mighty wonder Jesus performed at the cross & resurrection was the death blow to death itself, and was the miracle God performed to give us eternal life and freedom. Praise God for His mighty act!
  4. What would happen to Israel after Pharaoh let them go? God had a plan for that, too.

21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. 22 But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

  1. God’s grace brings provision. 400 years’ worth of back-wages would be paid to Israel as they symbolically “plunder[ed] the Egyptians.” By the time the Israelites were finally leaving, the Egyptians were so glad to see them go, they were willing to give them pretty much anything the Hebrews asked for. For centuries, the Hebrews lived in Egyptian poverty; they would walk out with the wealth of kings.
  2. Be careful not to get the wrong idea. God didn’t promise gold, silver, and clothing to the Hebrews that they might live in opulent desert mansions or spend it on wild parties. God had a purpose for their wealth: the tabernacle. Much gold & silver & cloth would be required for the ark of the testimony, the lampstand, the curtains, and more. God had a plan for His people to worship Him while they were in the desert, and He ensured that they would have more than enough provision for it.

Conclusion:

Our God is utterly amazing! Appearing to Moses through the burning bush, God gave His holy presence, revealed His eternal name, and spoke of His perfect plan. Through it all, He demonstrates His grace, power, and compassion. He had not forgotten His people; He had a plan to deliver them. And when He did (using Moses), the children of Israel would know the holy grace of the Infinite God.

The same God that appeared to Moses in a burning bush is the God who appeared to us in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and when we have seen Him, we have seen the Father. And because of Him, we are brought into the holy presence of God – we have direct relationship with the eternal God – we are participants in the might plans of God. We are His people, through Jesus, and He has given us every spiritual blessing in Him. (Eph 1:3)

So believe the I AM! Don’t lose faith in God or His promises! It can be easy for any of us to lose hope. Maybe it’s regarding a loved one who is still stubbornly unsaved…we can trust God is giving them every opportunity to know Jesus. Maybe you struggle with prayer, not knowing if God hears. He does! Even when it seems as if He’s silent, He hears the groans of His people. Maybe you doubt if God “can” work in a certain situation. He is the I AM…He can do anything! Believe Him for who He is, for who God has declared Himself to be; not according to the limits of your own expectations. Hold fast to God because HE IS God, and thankfully because of Jesus, He is OUR God.

 

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Motives Matter

Posted: September 16, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 8:4-25, “Motives Matter”

Motives matter. You’re given the choice between two surgeons: one is often on TV, interviewed by celebrities, and trying to make a name for himself; the other has served in obscurity on the mission field in South America. Which would seem to be more trustworthy: the one serving himself or the one serving others? From a criminal point of view, the issue of motive becomes important in terms of sentencing, and perhaps even regarding what crime is actually charged. Will someone accused of causing a death be charged with first-degree murder, or manslaughter? It depends on whether the killing was thought-out & intentional, or if it was a tragic accident. Much of that comes down to motive. Motives matter.

Motives matter in our service to God, as well. It’s not often something that can be seen on the outside; motives are often hidden in the heart. But it matters whether or not we serve Jesus for the glory of God, or for the glory of self. It matters whether we seek attention for Him, or for ourselves. On one hand, we can praise God any time service is done for Him. As Paul wrote to the Philippians regarding his own situation in jail, some gloated over his trouble while preaching Christ from “selfish ambition” – but as long as Christ was preached, Paul rejoiced (Phil 1:15-18). On the other hand, those who serve Jesus for the wrong reason might be able to fool everyone else, but they cannot fool God. As Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, one person’s work for Jesus might be of “gold, silver, and precious stones,” whereas someone else’s might be “wood, hay, and straw,” and Jesus’ judgment will determine which is which! (1 Cor 3:12-14) Once again, it comes down to motive.

Born-again Christians need to ask themselves why they serve Christ. Just because we’re saved doesn’t mean that we’re sinless. Just because we belong to Jesus doesn’t mean we always act in purity. As Martin Luther put it, Christians are “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We have been made righteous by the free gift of Jesus because of His work on the cross and resurrection from the grave – but at the same time, we still struggle with our flesh and sinful desires. We are truly justified (made righteous) from all our sin, but we are continually sanctified (set apart, made holy) all the days that we draw breath. Because of that, we struggle with issue of the heart – we struggle with motives. Do we want to be spiritual in order to be seen as spiritual, or do we truly want to glorify Jesus? Why do we do the things we do for Jesus? What is in our hearts?

Of course, none of this is new – it has been dealt with by Christians through the ages, all the way back to the very beginnings of the church, as seen in the book of Acts. It’s exactly what Luke describes for us when showing us two very different men: Philip, and Simon.

Persecution had officially come to the Jerusalem church. Although the twelve apostles had experienced hardships, imprisonment, beatings, and more on their own, the Jewish leadership had limited it to the church leadership. No more. With Stephen’s trial and execution, all the church became vulnerable to persecution. Stephen hadn’t been an apostle; he was simply a Spirit-filled servant with a heart for evangelism. For that reason, he was killed, becoming the first Christian martyr in history.

Yet Stephen was not the only deacon (servant) with a burden to preach the gospel. His co-laborer on the benevolence team did also, and Philip likewise found great success. Unlike Stephen, Philip did not remain in Jerusalem, but stretched out to Samaria. It was there that he worked miracles and saw people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One such response came from a man named Simon, and what he did in his response to the gospel set him up as a stark contrast to Philip. Philip preached the gospel for the sake of Jesus Christ; Simon wanted to preach the gospel for his own sake. Their motives were vastly different, and it was evident to God.

Watch your motives! Our motives matter to our Heavenly Father. Praise God that He wants us to serve Him, inviting & empowering us to do so, but our service to Him ought to be done to Him, for Him; not for us.

Acts 8:4–25

  • Philip’s ministry in Samaria (4-8)

4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

  1. Remember that the young Pharisee Saul had begun an intense persecution of the church in Jerusalem. To this point, the Christians in Jerusalem had remained in Jerusalem, not having a reason to venture outward even though Jesus’ Great Commission had called them to make disciples of all the nations (Mt 28:19-20). But this had been part of God’s plan. Just like babies need to sit up before they can crawl, and crawl before they walk, the baby Church had growing to do. Jesus had been clear that their ministry would begin first in Jerusalem before spreading out to Judea & Samaria, and after that to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), and this first transition was just now taking place. Saul’s persecution became the catalyst for Christians leaving Jerusalem, and they went exactly where Jesus said they would go: Judea & Samaria (vs. 1).
  2. What did they do as they left? They preached the word. Though they were persecuted, their persecution spread the gospel. Like seed that is dispersed in a field takes root in the ground, so did the Christians who were dispersed outside of Jerusalem take the seed of the gospel with them. Where they went, they took their proclamation of Jesus…exactly as Jesus always intended for them to do.
    1. This is true for every born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Where is your mission field? Exactly where you are right now. That’s not to say that God isn’t going to call you to go elsewhere, but wherever you go, you take the gospel with you. “Witnessing” is not so much an action as it is our identity. We are witnesses of Jesus. Think back to what Jesus told the apostles: Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus did not say that they “shall witness” of Him in all these places (though they would); He said they “shall be witnesses” of Him. It’s the difference between a verb and a noun. A verb is what we do; a noun is who we are. Don’t misunderstand: evangelism is indeed an action, and one in which we should engage. But we engage in witnessing because we are witnesses. That is who we are – it is who Jesus has made us to be, and who the Holy Spirit empowers us to be.
  3. This was what all of the scattered (dispersed) believers did. One in particular was a man named Philip – one of the seven original deacons from Acts 6. Philip was not an apostle, but he was mightily used of God – not just here in Acts 8, but also in Acts 21 when he is identified as an evangelist who had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). He had a lengthy ministry in the Lord – the very beginnings of which we read here.

5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.

  1. Who were the Samaritans? Traditionally, they were enemies of the Jews – distorted cousins, sharing a common history but theological perversion. Originally, they had been the ten northern tribes of Israel, but once conquered by the Assyrians, they had their Hebrew identity bred out of them through much mixed marriage and distorted religion. The Samaritans had their own version of the Pentateuch, altered to make Mount Gerizim the place of worship, rather than Mount Zion. It was a twisted scripture, leading to twisted false theology. Culturally speaking, the Jews and Samaritans hated one another. Although we often speak of the “Good Samaritan” today (regarding Jesus’ parable), the reason Jesus’ parable was so shocking to His original listeners is because they could not bring themselves to imagine any such thing as a “good” Samaritan! At one point, the apostles James and John asked Jesus for permission to call fire down on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54)…not exactly the best way to spread the gospel of the kingdom!
  2. With that in mind, think of what it was Philip did. Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans. He preached to the people no one else wanted to even speak to. Philip preached Christ to the people who were considered the least & the hopelessly lost. In other words, Philip preached Christ to exactly those who he needed to preach to! He had nothing to gain by going to the Samaritans, and perhaps much to lose. After all, even though persecution was on the rise in Jerusalem, he as a Jew would be just as much distrusted by the Samaritans as he was hated by Saul. But that’s where he went, and that’s where he proclaimed Jesus, because those were the people that needed Jesus the most.
    1. We often want to pick an easy mission field for ourselves, but Jesus doesn’t call us to “easy.” He calls us to make disciples of all Some of your neighbors might seem like the hardest people to reach with the gospel…they still need to hear it. Some of the nations to where we send missionaries might seem like the people most closed to the message of Jesus…but the message still needs to go. Beware that your service to Christ isn’t limited by your comfort level. You go where He tells you to go. You do what He gives you to do. It may be with a “Samaritan,” someone that seems impossible to reach with the gospel. So be it. You just be obedient!
  3. And notice how the Samaritans responded: they “heeded” (heard, obeyed) the gospel in unity (“with one accord”). The people least desired by others to hear the gospel, and least expected to respond to the gospel, heard & responded in droves! They believed and came to faith in Christ. How is this possible? It was nothing other than a supernatural work of God. God prepared them to receive the good news of Jesus.
    1. Again, we often limit our ministries to the stuff that we think is going to be easy, but perhaps our expectations are backwards. In Philip’s case, the supposedly-difficult mission field wasn’t difficult at all! Why? Because of the work of God. God went ahead of him, prepared the way for the gospel of Jesus, and a wonderful work was done to His glory! Jesus already told us that the fields are white for the harvest (Jn 4:35, and He was in Samaria when He said it!) – people are ready to be saved, because God has made them ready to be saved. All they need is for someone to tell them. Tell them! Trust God to have gone before you, preach the gospel, and leave the results up to Him.
  4. Philip not only preached of the power of God to save through Jesus, he demonstrated it through miracles and acts of power. The Samaritan people heard the gospel and saw the proof of it, experiencing both physical and spiritual healing. Interestingly, this is something else Philip had in common with Stephen. Both preached the gospel, and both performed signs & wonders – neither being one of the 12 apostles. Miracles are not limited to the office of apostle! The Spirit moves as He wills, and His miracles are up to Him.
    1. Can we expect miracles as we share the gospel? Not necessarily…at least, not in the way we might think of them. Again, the Holy Spirit gives signs and wonders as He wills, and there are times supernatural healings take place & times they don’t. Even so, every time someone is saved is an example of a miracle. That’s an instance when someone who is spiritually dead comes to life. So yes, signs still accompany evangelism…in fact, we pray that this sign happens more often!

8 And there was great joy in that city.

  1. Of course! This is the natural response to salvation: joy! It is even more joy when someone who was lost in a lie is unexpectedly given the truth. The Samaritans were not only lost in sin & death, but they didn’t have the untainted word of God from which they could hear of the true Messiah. Once Philip brought them the news, they rejoiced! Lives were changed…even those who were the most unexpected among already-unexpected people.
  • Simon the Samarian sorcerer (9-13)

9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.

  1. Simon was a magician who had everyone deceived. So much so, the people called him “the great power of God.” The phrasing in Greek is rather difficult to translate. ESV: “This man is the power of God that is called Great,” NASB: “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” Whether Simon proclaimed himself to actually be God, or to only have the power of God is uncertain. What is certain is that Simon performed all kinds of wonders that amazed people, and they were convinced he was the real deal. They believed that he had access to divine power (in some way or form).
    1. Although the only Biblical mention of Simon the sorcerer is in Acts 8, he was known outside of the New Testament writings as being one of the chief heretics of the church and a constant thorn-in-the-flesh to the apostle Peter. That said, those other writings were not inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is beyond argument that Simon was known among the Samaritans and gained an infamy after the lifetimes of the apostles, but the only truth we know of his life is what is written in the book of Acts. We need to be careful not to let outside Gnostic writings (i.e. heretical writings) influence our judgment of the historical man.
  2. It begs the question: Can sorcery work? Simon seemed to work “magic,” and there are other instances in the Bible when sorcery seemed to be a fact (such as the magicians of Pharaoh’s court who went head-to-head with Moses). Without question, there’s much out in the world that is fake, but…the answer is yes, though a qualified yes. Yes, sorcery can work, but when it does it is demonic. Even Jesus talked about lying signs and wonders in the end-times (Mt 24:24). People play around with occult items all the time, getting caught up in wicca, tarot cards, physics, seances, and more, and (sadly) open themselves up to demonic deception and oppression. Beware that you do not do the same! As Christians, we need to know that there is a spiritual realm we cannot see that has all kinds of demonic principalities, powers, and rulers of darkness (Eph 6:12). If we are in Christ Jesus, we need not fear those things (for Jesus is infinitely more powerful!), but we dare not play around with them either.
  3. Thankfully, the people did not stay deceived. They had seen the wonders worked by Simon, but then they saw something far better and far more pure through Philip…

12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

  1. The Samaritans were saved & baptized. Not everyone of course, but many. Multitudes of crowds in one accord had been prepared by God to respond to the good news of Jesus, and when they saw the power of the true God in action, they recognized the false demonic powers for what they were. They heard the evangelism of Philip, believed, and were baptized.
  2. BTW – Baptism always follows belief. Babies are not to be baptized because they cannot exercise faith, but that doesn’t mean that baptism is meaningless. Believer baptism is not only commanded by our Lord Jesus (Mt 28:19-20), but it is the consistent pattern of the New Testament, being a visual testimony to all the world of our faith in the work of Jesus. When we go down into the water, it is as if our old self has been put into the grave with Jesus; when we come up, it signifies the new life promised by Jesus’ resurrection (Rom 6:4). An unbaptized born-again Christian is a contradiction in terms. 

13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

  1. Even Simon was saved & baptized! This demonically inspired magician saw true miracles, and could not deny them. This is the power of God! When someone who is so desperately lost in sin and deception, being totally given over to the whims of the devil – if even that person can believe in Jesus, who among us is hopelessly lost? If there is hope for someone like Simon, there is hope for anyone!
    1. Some of you may consider yourself hopelessly lost. You may think that too much time has gone by – that you’re too bad a sinner – that you’re too much a basket-case to receive the forgiveness of Jesus. Not so! There is no one so lost that Jesus cannot save them! When Jesus died on the cross, He died for you. All of your sins were placed upon the Son of God, and there is no sin too great that His blood does not overcome. In Jesus’ resurrected life, He offers you eternal life – but you must believe. Entrust yourself to Jesus Christ, believing upon Him today!
  2. Question: Knowing what we know of Simon (from the rest of the chapter), shouldn’t he be considered a false convert? Scholars differ on their conclusions, with many solid conservative teachers siding against Simon’s conversion. They believe him to be a false convert – someone who indicated an initial form of belief, but had no real inward change of spirit towards Christ Jesus. Like in the Parable of the Soils, perhaps Simon was one who initially responded to the seed of the gospel, but had it choked out by the deceitfulness of riches (Mt 13:22). They say that Peter’s chastisement of Simon as not having a heart right with God is proof that Simon’s heart had not been regenerated by God. With all due respect to those valued Bible teachers, I disagree, based on the text of Scripture. Before people jump to conclusions that fit well with our particular theologies, we must first let the Scripture be our final judge and authority. That means we have to first look at the Bible for what it says, even if that leads us to some uncomfortable conclusions.
  3. So what does the Scripture say? “Then Simon himself also believed.” Luke used the same word to describe Simon’s belief as Luke used of anyone who believed on the Lord Jesus for salvation. Granted, the root verb (πιστεύω) could be used of false belief, or mere intellectual agreement. James uses this word when writing what the demons think of Jesus: “Even the demons believe, and tremble!” (Jas 2:19) But when looking at word usage and definitions, it’s essential that we look at how the word is used in the same actual grammatical construction and context. In this case, the usage is consistent throughout the New Testament. When this word appears in this particular fashion (aorist active indicative 3rd person singular), someone has either truly believed unto salvation, or has definitively not believed at all. The only other times Luke uses this word in the same way in the book of Acts is when people came to true faith in Jesus: the proconsul of the island of Paphos (13:12), and the leader of the Corinthian synagogue (18:8). Likewise Paul, who was Luke’s mentor in the faith and an often travelling companion, uses the word in a similar way, writing of how Abraham believed God and was accounted as righteous (Rom 4:3, 17-18; Gal 3:6) – or he quotes the Greek translation of Isaiah, writing of those who have not “believed our report,” (Rom 10:16). And the list could go on. On this usage, the New Testament is consistent. With that in mind, how could the account of Simon the sorcerer be the one time the word doesn’t mean what it says? At the end of the day, this is not an issue worth division, and Bible-believing Christians can (and do!) come to different conclusions. But whatever conclusion you reach, it needs to be based on God’s word; not preconceived ideas of what we think God’s word ought to say.
  4. With all that said, some are probably asking “So what? What’s the big deal? What does it really matter if Simon was a false convert or truly saved?” Answer: It certainly mattered to Simon! And it matters to us, as well. After all, what happens if, as a born-again Christian, you come to the realization that you’ve believed something that was incorrect? What do you do if you ever come to a crossroads in your theology, realizing that perhaps you’ve been mistaken about something? Does it mean you weren’t ever saved? Does it mean that you’ve been walking around in false belief your whole so-called Christian life? Although we’d like an easy answer to that question, it’s not always cut-and-dry. There are some doctrines that are absolutely essential to saving faith, and some that are not. A person who believes differently on the spiritual gifts than you can still be a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus; a person who denies the deity of Jesus cannot. A person can be wrong on their view of baptism or the Lord’s Supper and still be saved; a person who is wrong on the sufficiency of the work of Jesus at the cross is lost. What was the case with Simon? His sin had nothing to do with Jesus’ deity, sacrificial work at the cross, resurrection from the dead, or anything else that could be considered essential doctrine. There’s no question he was caught up in sin, but saved people get tripped up by sin all the time. (You might have a personal example from your drive to church this morning!) All of us struggle with sin – all of us have issues of doctrine from time to time – all of us have issues, period, sometimes for long times. It doesn’t mean we’re not saved. Personal faith doesn’t equal perfect The moment we think it does is the moment we’ve turned “faith” into a “work,” and that’s precisely the opposite of what it ought to be!
    1. That all being said, please don’t take this to the other extreme. The Scripture is clear that we ought to be absolutely sure we are in the faith. We are to examine ourselves, ensuring that we are in Christ and He is in us (2 Cor 13:5). Consistent unrepentant sin is a glaring warning sign that our faith may not be as sincere as we thought it was. If, once confronted by your sin & convicted by the Holy Spirit, you do not respond in repentance, you have every reason to doubt your salvation.
    2. Bottom line, we are to depend on Christ. Our salvation is not based on us; it’s based on Jesus. It isn’t a matter of perfect doctrine, nor is it a matter of a long-forgotten past decision. It is based on Jesus’ work alone, seen in living faith.

That’s a long way to go to set the scene! Yet all of that needs to be established in order to see what happens next. On one hand, there is Philip: a humble yet active servant of Jesus, giving the gospel to people who desperately need it for no other reason than they need Jesus. On the other hand, there is Simon the (hopefully former) magician, who’s just heard the gospel and seemingly put his faith in Christ. How will he respond? Will he follow in the footsteps of Philip, from whom he heard the gospel, or will he have a different agenda? Luke tells us shortly…

  • Simon vs. Simon Peter (14-25)

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

  1. News got back to Jerusalem of what was happening. Peter & John were commissioned as apostolic representatives not only to verify what was going on, but to pray for the Samaritans that “they might receive the Holy Spirit” in the same way that the apostles had received the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
  2. Question: Why is this necessary? Don’t Christians receive the Holy Spirit at our initial salvation? Yes…we are born of the Spirit & indwelt by Him, and His empowerment comes through multiple later fillings. This has been not only the testimony of Acts, but the consistent pattern through the rest of the New Testament. So what’s going on here? Keep in mind this was a transitional time for the church. To this point, only Jews in Jerusalem had heard the gospel and responded unto salvation. Even on Pentecost when there were visitors from around the Roman empire, all who were present were Jews, because it was a Jewish feast. This is the first time the gospel had gone out to people who were not pure ethnic Jews. This is something that needed to be witnessed and authenticated in an official way, in order that it would be accepted and understood by all. Thus, this was a work of grace given by God. By having the apostles present for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, God ensured that the Jewish Christian apostles would understand that even the Samaritans were a part of the exact same church, with absolutely no difference between them.
    1. We are one people – one church! There is no difference between us: Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female (Gal 3:28) – north, south, black, white, democrat, republican – if we are in Christ Jesus, then we are one church.

18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

  1. Before we jump to conclusions, we have to understand what Simon was thinking. Like many modern-day illusionists who purchase tricks & illusions from one another, this ancient magician thought he could do the same thing. There Simon was, having already witnessed the miracles performed by Philip, and now he was watching the apostles pray for & impart the Holy Spirit to his neighbors. Apparently there was some outward sign of their receiving of the Holy Spirit (perhaps tongues? Luke doesn’t say), and Simon wanted to be able to do the same thing. So he offered Peter & John cash in order to purchase what he believed was a new “trick,” which wasn’t a trick at all!
  2. But that doesn’t mean that Simon’s motive was harmless. Simon recognized that there was something here that was more than human illusion or demonic deceit; this was real, and he wanted this real thing for himself. The word for “power” could be translated as “authority.” Remember that prior to their salvation experience, the Samaritans viewed Simon as having the great power of God – they looked to Simon as being truly powerful. Simon didn’t want that to stop, just because everyone was saved by Jesus. He wanted to be continued to be seen as a bigwig. If he could obtain this spiritual power to grant the Holy Spirit, then the Samaritans would continue to look to him as this “Great Power of God.” IOW, Simon’s motive was 100% selfish, and totally sinful.
  3. FYI: This is the historical origin of what is referred to as “simony,” the practice of purchasing spiritual authority, spiritual favor, or bribing one’s way into a religious position of some sort. In the Middle Ages, rich landowners would give their main inheritance to their oldest son, but perhaps purchase a bishopric position for another son. The practice lives on today any time someone uses wealth to purchase a “blessing” or some other favor from the church (often seen in the “prosperity” gospel). It was sinful with Simon the Samaritan, and it is sinful today. 

20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

  1. What was wrong with Simon’s offer? What wasn’t? Everything was wrong! (1) The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force that can be “acquired;” He is the 3rd Person of the Triune God. (2) The gift of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment is just that: a gift. It is not a wage, nor a commodity. You can’t go to the store to buy it. (3) God’s gift is God’s to give! It wasn’t up to Peter or John or anyone to decide who could or could not receive the Holy Spirit; that is for God alone to decide. The apostles were mere instruments used on His behalf. – Bottom line: this wasn’t a simple misunderstanding on Simon’s part; this was massive hubris and egotistical sin. Simon believed his own press. He thought he was the great power of God as well, having lost all perspective on the Lordship and Deity of Jesus Christ. 
  2. This brings up the question once more: Was Simon a false convert? We have to remember that the Scripture does not contradict itself. What Luke recorded Peter as saying in vss. 20-21 does not undo what Luke wrote in vs. 13 regarding Simon’s belief. Simon believed in the same way the other Samaritans believed, so if Luke declares they were saved (which they were, having received the Holy Spirit by the hands of the apostles), so was Simon. Granted, Luke never states if Simon had received the Holy Spirit – but Luke never says that he didn’t, either. Simon’s sinful offer could easily have been made after the apostles prayed for him. Like any of us, Simon could be saved, yet still struggle with sin.
  3. If that’s the case, what did Peter mean by saying “You have neither part nor portion in this matter”? Is this (as many argue) a reference to Simon having no part in salvation? It all depends on what “this matter” means. If it is the gift of the Holy Spirit as a sign and seal of eternal salvation, then it means that Simon was lost…but Peter’s words would also mean that Simon was forever lost, unable to be saved – which negates the whole command for Simon to repent. Yet contextually, it seems “this matter” is a reference to the authority/power to impart the Holy Spirit. IOW, Peter denies Simon the part/portion of participating in the ministry. Simon’s heart was not “right in the sight of God,” and he had zero business acting on God’s behalf as His representative or ambassador as the apostles were doing. Simon’s motives were totally wrong, and he would taint the gospel with his evil, harming the cause of Christ.
    1. Is this not the case with so many well-known TV ministries today? So many of these men and women are known for their love of money; not the gospel of Jesus Christ. They exalt themselves; not Jesus. But what happens as a result of their selfishness and greed? The true gospel gets tainted. All preachers are lumped in with them, being “just another” guy in a suit asking for money.
    2. Motives matter because people can tell the difference. More importantly, motives matter because God can tell the difference! God knew Simon’s heart wasn’t right, and Peter knew that Simon had been “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Like a gall bladder that bursts and makes a person septic on the inside, so was Simon poisoned by his own evil intents. God wasn’t fooled. Simon could pray for as many people as he wanted, but his outward actions wouldn’t change the state of his inward heart. Simon may have believed upon Jesus for eternity, but he was living in the present as a slave of his own sin (Rom 6:6).
  4. What is the solution for this sort of poison and prison? Repentance! Peter commanded Simon to turn around, change direction, change his heart/mind/attitudes from his current state, and to turn to Christ Jesus in humility and faith, asking God to forgive him. Although no one else had been harmed by Simon’s terrible offer, the “thought of [his] heart” was wicked, requiring the forgiveness of God. Question: Do born-again Christians need to repent? YES! Repentance isn’t a one-time act done only when someone first comes to faith in Christ – repentance is a lifestyle for the born-again believer in Jesus. We are to repent every time the Holy Spirit makes us aware of sin in our lives, and praise God He gives us the opportunity to do so! 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We tend to forget that the apostle John wrote those words to Christians. It’s not just unbelievers who need to repent, and ask the forgiveness of God through Christ; it’s everyone. As born-again believers, we have the absolute promise that Jesus grants it!
    1. Some of you have lived your Christian life too long bound to sin. You’ve put up with poison because you haven’t confessed ongoing sinful thoughts and motives. Want freedom? Live in humility and repentance!
  5. As a side note, this is the 2nd time Peter has had to discipline someone in the book of Acts. And both times, it was over the issue of money. Ananias & Sapphira lied about their donation to the church – Simon tried to purchase spiritual authority in selfish evil. Beware the danger of the love of money! Beware the value you attach to it! Don’t let money get in the way of your walk with Christ.

24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”

  1. Simon heard the words of Peter, and it shook him. Was this a true heart change or was it temporary worldly sorrow? It’s impossible to know for certain, as Luke never returns for a follow-up. Extra-biblical traditions and legend teach that Simon was a heretic of heretics, but again, that is only legend.
  2. Thinking again to Ananias and Sapphira, it’s interesting that Simon actually received the opportunity to repent – an opportunity Ananias and Sapphira did not have. Perhaps Simon took it, perhaps not. 

With that, Luke concludes the Samaritan narrative…

25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

  1. The ministry continued, and more Samaritans were saved. Who did the witnessing this time? Peter & John. The apostles followed in what the deacon Philip had already begun. The fact that these people were Samaritan no longer mattered. What mattered was that they were open to hearing the good news of Jesus, and Peter & John were ready to share it with them. (Are you ready to tell others of Jesus? Are you ready to respond to the good news of Jesus?) 

Conclusion:

Two men are highlighted in Samaria. One gladly proclaimed Jesus to a people prepared by God to hear, doing so just because it meant that Jesus would be glorified & people would be saved. The other tried to buy his way into the ministry because he thought he’d be able to maintain his own self-importance. What Philip and Simon each had in their hearts was seen in their actions, and it made all the difference in the world. Motives matter.

As a born-again believer, what is your motive for serving Jesus? What’s your motive for even worshipping Jesus? For some, it’s to feel good about themselves, to stroke all their right emotional buttons so they come away with the right “feeling.” For others, it’s about making themselves look spiritual to others, so that they would be admired as a “really good Christian.” Or it’s about building up their own kingdom, rather than the kingdom of God. They want their own group of followers who look to them as leaders. Beware! Those are false motives. Call it what it is: evil – bitter iniquity.

It doesn’t mean that you’ve lost your salvation, but it does mean you need to repent. If this is something the Holy Spirit is convicting you of, then you don’t need to waste a moment – you need to humble yourself right now and confess your sin to Jesus. He is faithful & just – He cleanses & forgives, but your repentance is not optional.

May God help us serve Jesus with pure hearts for the right reasons! We want to see Jesus lifted high, to be known & exalted throughout our city & throughout the world. It’s not about building our kingdom; it’s about building His. It’s not about us in worship; it’s about Him being worshipped. It’s not about us receiving credit for ministry successes; any success at all is given by Him & the credit should go to Him. So give it to Him! 

Waiting for a Deliverer

Posted: September 13, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 1-2, “Waiting for a Deliverer”

Waiting can be difficult. We used to think microwaves were fast; now we stare impatiently at the timer. We used to think email was quick; now we want text messages. Soon we’re going to be complaining about the wait before we realize what we’re waiting for! 😊 It’s one thing to wait for food; it’s another to wait out a crisis. During those times, the minutes (hours, days) seem to slow down. It’s as if time slows in proportion to the amount of our trouble, and it just can’t end soon enough.

If we experience that in surgical waiting rooms (and elsewhere), imagine what it was like for the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt! They had a promise of a future homeland, a nation, and the blessing of God, but it seemed like it never came. Years turned into decades, which turned into centuries, and nothing. What to do? They had to trust their Lord God, which meant they had to trust His timing…and that can prove to be the trickiest part of all.

Why were the children of Israel in Egypt in the first place? For that, we need to back up a bit to Genesis. Out of all of humanity, God chose one man through whom He would bring the Messiah (the promised Seed of the woman – Gen 3:15): Abraham. Abraham bore Isaac, Isaac bore Jacob, and Jacob grew into a large family which eventually faced mortal danger. (1) A physical famine threatened their lives, (2) social inter-marriage with the Canaanites threatened their existence. God save the family of Jacob/Israel from both threats through one of Jacob’s sons: Joseph. Despite enduring betrayal, slavery, and imprisonment, Joseph rose to being second-in-command of all Egypt, fully able to deliver his family from the famine, and also give them a temporary home in Egypt where they would have the opportunity to remain pure and grow into a nation.

Of course, that home was supposed to be temporary. Both Jacob and Joseph looked forward to the day their bodies would be returned to the land of promise. Canaan was God’s perpetual gift to His people, and one day all the children of Israel would return. The book of Exodus tells that story.

The Hebrew name of the book is “Now these are the names,” which is literally the first two words of Exodus 1:1 (וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙). Our English name for the book is simply a transliteration of the Greek LXX (ἔξοδος), which seems more descriptive of the whole. Even so, the Hebrew name is not totally irrelevant. The book begins with the names of the tribes of Israel, but continues through it’s conclusion showing the birth of the nation of Israel. The tribes leave Egypt in a grand “exodus,” but the reason they leave is so they can bear the “name” of Israel in their own land as their own people worshipping their own God. Whatever you call the book, it contains a mighty history of God’s glorious deliverance of His people unto freedom.

Its author is Moses, which, though debated by liberal scholars, is unquestioned by the rest of the Bible, including the Lord Jesus. When referring to the burning bush, Jesus talks about “the book of Moses,” (Mk 12:26) – something that could be said of each of the 1st 5 books of the Bible, with the Pentateuch as whole being considered “the books of Moses.” Undoubtedly he wrote it during the 40 years of wilderness wandering, probably in the range of 1446-1400BC, recording all that God revealed to him for the benefit of the Hebrews who would eventually live in the Promised Land.

As the book begins, a need is seen for deliverance, and a man has been destined as the deliverer. The question was if anyone among Israel would look to God to provide His deliverer in His way. Too often we try to run ahead of God. We think we might know His plans, but we’re too impatient to wait upon His timing. Wait upon the Lord! He hasn’t forgotten you…of that you can be sure!

Exodus 1 – Slavery and Suffering

  • Growth of Israel (1-7)

1 Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; 4 Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already).

  1. Exodus opens with a quick reminder for the context. The whole family of Israel went down to Egypt, totaling 70 persons (75, depending how you count Joseph & his family) – quite a large family, even for the day. The single man of Jacob had turned into the clan of Israel (both names used here in reminder of God’s work in Jacob’s own life), and this clan had survived the famine and following years. 

6 And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. 7 But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.

  1. Time passed, the generation of the patriarchs died, and Israel was blessed with growth…exceeding growth! The wording is reminiscent of the opening chapters of Genesis, after God gave the command to mankind to be fruitful and multiply. Specifically to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God had promised that they would grow into such numbers that they would be beyond count – like the sand of the seashore or the stars in the sky. The population explosion in Egypt was a sign that God kept His promise. (And if He proved true in part of His word, surely He would prove true in all of it!)
  2. There was so much growth, in fact, that the Hebrews became seen as a threat by the Egyptians.
  • Egypt’s fear of the Hebrews (8-14)

8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; 10 come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.”

  1. In generations past, the Hebrews enjoyed a certain amount of protection and safety in the land of Egypt. Joseph had been the prime minister to Pharaoh, and the king of Egypt gave him full permission to do to his family whatever it was that needed to be done. But Joseph wasn’t there any longer. Time passed, administrations changed. Joseph’s position wasn’t hereditary, and the Hebrews were just a foreign people group living within the borders of Egypt.
  2. With a new Pharaoh came new policy. He believed it wise (“shrewd”) to subjugate the Hebrews. All of the new population could easily form an army, and soon it could be Pharaoh and the native Egyptians who were servants; not the Hebrews. Depending how one dates the book of Exodus, this attitude might be explained by the temporary rule of the Hyksos people over Egypt during the 15th-17th dynasties (1650-1550BC). The Hyksos were also a Semitic people like the Hebrews, and had actually taken control of Egypt until the native Egyptians took it back in 1550BC. If Jacob, Joseph and the others had arrived around 1880BC, then the Hebrews would have been in Egypt during the entire upheaval of the Hyksos. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the new Pharaoh wanted to prevent the Hebrews from becoming a similar kind of threat. (Of course, the way he handled it was sinful!)
  3. None of this ought to have been a surprise to the Israelites. All of this had been prophesied from God to Abraham. Genesis 15:13–16, “(13) Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. (14) And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (15) Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”” 400 years needed to pass before the Israelites headed home, and during that time they were specifically told that they would expect suffering and subjugation. It wouldn’t make it easy to handle, but it at least provided an expiration date to their trial. For the Hebrews who had faith in the Lord, all they needed to do was remember this promise, and start counting down the years.
    1. That’s one of the glorious benefits of having God’s word written down, freely available to us to read. We can see God’s promises with our own eyes, and take comfort. We can read God’s prophecies, and be reassured things aren’t out of control. Waiting is always difficult, but it’s far better when we wait with the word of God!

11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel.

  1. The Hebrews became forced labor for construction. Unlike what popular movies may depict, the Hebrews did not build the pyramids (which date to 2580BC), but they did build at least a couple of cities for the Egyptians. Although the names of the cities have caused some to place the Exodus at a much later date (middle 1200’s BC), we need to remember that city names can come from more than one source (i.e. a particular king), and that sometimes names are updated for later audiences. However the cities were named, its not enough to get sidetracked from the main point: the Hebrews, though one-time guests, were now slaves.
  2. Note: the Hebrews continued to multiply and grow. God had chosen the Hebrews for growth, and no matter how they were afflicted by the Egyptians, God’s choice did not change. God’s blessings cannot be undone!
    1. What hope this gives us in our own times of waiting & suffering! God will not reverse what He has granted us in Christ Jesus. The work He has begun in us, He will be faithful to complete (Phil 1:6) – His gifts and callings are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). He has chosen us for His own, just as we chose to surrender our lives to Jesus as Lord & Savior, and His choice will not be undone!

13 So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor.

  1. The emphasis is on harsh, bitter service. It’s not only that the Hebrews served Egypt with the sweat of their brows, but that Egypt demanded that service with harsh ruthlessness. Just as the American experience has dealt with the issue of ruthless generational slavery of an entire race, so did the Egyptians do to the Hebrews.
    1. This is remembered in the modern Passover meal with the bitter herbs. There’s a reason that the Jews are supposed to bite into raw horseradish and wince: it reminds them of the suffering of their forefathers. That their suffering has ended reminds them to give God praise.
    2. From a Christian perspective, we ought to remember our bitter slavery as well: our former slavery to sin. It keeps us humble in our attitudes, compassionate towards those still lost, and forever grateful for the grace in which we live!
  2. Question: Was there a point to all of this rigorous labor and suffering? Why would God allow His chosen people to endure it? Answer: Among other things, it would make the Hebrews hunger for God’s freedom. It would cause them to look to God, plead for help, and beg Him for a deliverer (which the end of Chapter 2 demonstrates that they did). Just like the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, so is suffering a vehicle to bring us to Someone who offers relief. (Jesus alone!)
  3. Of course, in the midst of this, the children of Israel are still multiplying. Hard labor had not slowed the population growth, so Pharaoh decided he needed to take more forceful action.
  • Pharaoh’s order to kill the sons (15-22)

15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; 16 and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.

  1. Pharaoh’s new plan: kill the Hebrew male children. For whatever reason, Pharaoh feared the male children more than the female (though in Chapters 1-2, it was the females that foiled his plans every time). He ordered the midwives to kill the Hebrew sons in childbirth, which might make it appear to be more of an “accident” than murder (although everyone would know the truth). Two of the midwives are named – they likely represented the other Hebrew midwives as a whole, and surely they all followed the example of the two who are mentioned.
  2. Facing a direct order from the king of the land, what did the midwives do? They directly disobeyed. They took care of the male children in the same manner that they cared for the females: desiring to deliver every single one alive & healthy. Why? The midwives “feared God” more than they feared Pharaoh.
    1. And rightly so! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), and these women knew that they would face an authority far higher than that of Pharaoh. Whatever it was that Pharaoh could do to them, it was nothing compared with the judgment of Almighty God. But more than terror, the midwives were motivated by their holy reverence and awe of God. They knew that God would never condone of murder, so they did what they could to preserve life.
    2. When it comes to a choice between obeying men or God, the choice is clear: we obey God! His word and command is the highest of authorities, no matter what the laws of men might proclaim. As a whole, we are to respect and obey earthly authorities, but when they come in conflict with the word of God, God’s word is to rule every time.
  3. BTW – In the midst of all of this waiting for a deliverer, the Hebrew midwives waited the right way. They did not rise up in outright defiance of Pharaoh, nor did they try to subvert the culture from the inside. They simply used the opportunity God gave them to glorify God. They would not be able to deliver the entire nation, but they could deliver the baby boys from death, even if it was one at a time.
    1. Use the opportunities God gives you! Too often, we spend our efforts trying to make our own opportunities and force our own plans, without looking at what God has right in front of us. One person says “I want to preach to thousands, just like Billy Graham!” Wonderful…but have you shared the gospel with your next door neighbor? Look around. What is it God has already given you to do? While you wait, do that.

18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?” 19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.”

  1. Did the midwives lie? Did they have a choice? Maybe yes, maybe no. They could have been honest, and taken the punishment given them by Pharaoh…but if they had, perhaps they would have been killed & unable to save any future baby boys. Ethics ought never be judged on the basis of “the ends justifying the means,” but it seems that the midwives were caught between a rock and a hard place, and they chose the least-bad of the options.
    1. Interestingly, Moses as the author of Exodus, did not cast a moral judgment on the midwives. He simply recorded the fact of what they did. He was probably one who owed his life to the midwives’ act.
  2. Did God judge the midwives for their lie? Absolutely not! He blessed them for their faithfulness to life and His will.

20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. 21 And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.

  1. God knew the state of the midwives’ hearts, and He judged them accordingly…with blessing! To say that “He provided households for them” is to say that God gave them families of their own. Whether they were previously barren, or what their lives were like prior to that point was unknown, but God certainly blessed them going forward. They feared/worshipped God, and God treated them with His mercy and grace.
  2. God knows us, including our hearts and motives. That doesn’t give us free-reign to do whatever we want, but God also knows when we’re forced to make the least bad of terrible choices. He knows when we act for our own comfort or for His glory.

22 So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.”

  1. Pharaoh’s final plan: open infanticide. There was no more depending on the midwives – every family was responsible for drowning their own newborn sons. It was suffering on an awful scale…incomprehensible! In this, there is a foreshadowing of Passover. The final plague given to Egypt was the deaths of their firstborn sons – no doubt a direct response to the terrible order of Pharaoh.

At this point, things look absolutely awful! The Hebrews are enslaved, and their children are being systematically attacked by the evil order of Pharaoh. Once again, the nation is in danger of extinction. What can be done? God was already doing it. He had a plan for a deliverer, and that plan was set in motion with Moses.

Exodus 2 – Moses’ beginnings

  • Birth & deliverance (1-10)

1 And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. 2 So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months.

  1. The mother’s name was Jochebed (6:20). She gave birth to a son, and couldn’t bring herself to follow through with Pharaoh’s command. (Who could?!) She hid him away as long as possible. Can you imagine? She & her husband Amram would hardly have been able to even rejoice with their neighbors over the birth of their son. After all, who knows how many of them had been forced to drown their children? Jochebed kept her infant boy an absolute secret, trying to hush every cry, and anticipate any noise the baby would make. Eventually something would have to be done with the boy, but what?
  2. BTW – Did Jochebed save Moses just because he was good looking? Every mother believes their baby is beautiful, but what set this mother’s love for her son apart from any other? “Beautiful” (NKJV) is literally “good,” (ט֣וֹב). Contextually, it could mean “beautiful,” but it could also mean “fine” (ESV, NIV) or “healthy.” Some have seen a parallel to the creation account – just like God saw His creation as “good,” so did Jochebed see her baby boy. Perhaps there was something about this child that seemed stronger than the rest. Whatever it was, it stood out to her, and she knew she had to take action to save him.

3 But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. 4 And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.

  1. In the end, Jochebed still put her son into the river. It was the letter of the law, even if not the intent, for she put her son in the river as carefully as possible. Just as Noah was delivered from the waters of the flood by being enclosed in an ark sealed with pitch, so was baby Moses. The three-month old infant was put in a watertight bassinette and sent downstream.
  2. Question: Was this carelessness – cruelty? It was trust. Ultimately, Jochebed had no choice other than entrust her son to God. God had obviously led her to save her child; she had to trust that God would do the same.
    1. When we wait, it is imperative we trust. Waiting without faith is maddening – there is no rock to which to cling, no foundation upon which to stand. But with faith, waiting is possible. Again, it’s not always easy, but it’s doable. A solid faith and trust in Jesus (His goodness & His word) enables us to wait.
  3. Miriam (Moses’ sister) watched from the riverbank…something soon to be used by God for her baby brother’s deliverance.

5 Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. 6 And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

  1. The princess recognized the baby as a Hebrew, but she still had compassion. “Compassion” could be translated as “spare.” She spared the baby boy from certain death.
  2. Note: This is an Egyptian princess – the daughter of the chief enemy of God’s people. Yet she was the one used by God to deliver the future deliverer. Can God use impossible situations for His glory? Yes! 

7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. 9 Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him.

  1. In a wonderful turn of events, Moses’ older sister Miriam calls to the Egyptian princess asking if she could find a nursemaid for the child. When all was said and done, Jochebed not only saw the salvation of her son from death, but she was able to (1) continue personally nursing him, (2) spend quality time with him in his formative years, and (3) get paid for doing it! Sometimes we think the miracles in Exodus don’t begin until Moses sees the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Not true! The first miracle in Exodus was Moses’ own deliverance & upbringing!

10 And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

  1. Moses’ name involves a bit of word-play, as it sounds like the word for “drawn out.” There’s no small amount of irony here. The Egyptians looked to the Nile River as a source of life and nourishment, and from the Nile came the Hebrew prophet that would be the spokesman for one of the greatest threats they ever faced. This time, life hadn’t come from the Nile; judgment had. Not immediate…but judgment would come in the timing of God.
  2. The cross can be seen in a similar way. Some would look at the cross as a place of defeat – the place where the ministry of Jesus ended as He was nailed there and left to die. In truth, the cross is the exact opposite: a place of victory! There, the price of sin was paid and Jesus became the sacrifice for all mankind. But there is both life and judgment in the cross. To those who believe, Jesus is our source of life, forgiveness, and eternity with God in His good pleasure. To those who reject Jesus, He is their Judge.
  • Foolishness & flight from Egypt (11-15)

11 Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

  1. Time passed, and Moses grew. What happened in the meantime, Moses (as the author) leaves unsaid. In his defense before the Jewish Sanhedrin, Stephen spoke of Moses’ wisdom & mighty deeds, but Stephen drew from historical tradition; not the Scripture. It’s not at all unreasonable to assume that Moses grew up with all the benefits of the Egyptian royal household, but we have to remember that Moses always knew that he was not an Egyptian. His own mother was his nursemaid, and although we do not know how long she played a role in his life, there’s little doubt she told him the truth from an early age. 
  2. So Moses grew up as an outsider, recognized his situation as one given by God, and rightly assumed himself to be God’s chosen deliverer of God’s people. One day, he decided to act. He saw a legitimate problem but came up with an illegitimate solution. Seeing an Egyptian abuse a Hebrew, Moses killed the Egyptian and attempted a (literal) coverup. Question: What was wrong with the act? Moses was destined to be the deliverer, but in this moment he was a vigilante – a murderer. He hadn’t done it according to God’s command, nor did he do it in God’s way. The midwives had broken the law of Pharaoh, but they kept the law of God (apart from lying). Nothing Moses did in this situation was righteous. The midwives preserved life; Moses took it. The midwives feared God; Moses says nothing of his own relationship with God at this point. This was Moses acting according to his own flesh, and it was sinful.

13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?” 14 Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!”

  1. The very next day, Moses saw a similar situation between two Hebrews. This time, he tried to be a peacemaker and failed. The Hebrews wanted nothing to do with Moses, thinking him to be entitled & self-important, with no real relevance or authority in the matter. Moses hadn’t acted with godly authority, and the Hebrews certainly didn’t recognize any evidence of it.
  2. Of course, God would make Moses “a prince and a judge over” the Hebrews…but not yet. This wasn’t the time – Moses wasn’t personally ready. Moses had been as impetuous and egotistical as the Hebrews had accused him of being, just assuming he could kill the Egyptian and get away with it. God had a work to do in Moses before Moses would be ready to do a work for God in Egypt.
  3. From Moses’ perspective, the worst part wasn’t the rejection by his own countrymen; it was the fact that the news of his crime had gone public. His life was in danger, and he needed to leave quick!

15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.

  1. For the 2nd time in his life, Moses was in danger of death & needed urgent deliverance. He was but one man facing down the might of the Egyptian superpower. He had no choice except to run for his life.
  2. Where did he go? The exact location Moses went is unknown, but he symbolically followed in the footsteps of his forefathers. Like his ancestor Jacob, he sat down by a well, where he would soon meet the woman he would eventually marry.
  • Deliverance in Midian (16-22)

16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.

  1. The sovereign timing of God is again on display. Moses “just happened” to show up at the exact well where these women would be, and they “just happened” to be in need of his help. There is no coincidence with the Lord…this was exactly according to His plan!
  2. Moses acted again – this time, not as a vigilante, but in justice and compassion. What exactly Moses did to “help” them (deliver them / save them ~ יָשַׁע) is unknown…but he was making progress in that it wasn’t criminal or violent. He was learning to do things God’s way – learning the lessons of humility.

18 When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?” 19 And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.” 20 So he said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”

  1. Reuel/Jethro was surprised to see his daughters return so quickly, and was even more surprised that his daughters lacked in basic hospitality. A total stranger dressed like an Egyptian had saved them from their habitual trouble with the local shepherds, and they hadn’t even invited him home to dinner! 

21 Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. 22 And she bore him a son. He called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”

  1. This was Moses’ 2nd First he was rescued from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter; now he was rescued from being a refugee by the priest of Midian. He would spend the next 40 years in the wilderness of Midian with Reuel, learning the lessons of humility and shepherding. It may have been a foreign place for him, but it was a true proving ground used by God.
  • God hears the Hebrews (23-25)

23 Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage.

  1. If suffering was supposed to make Israel long for God, it worked. They “cried out” and “groaned” for God. The new Pharaoh did not lessen the load upon the Hebrews, and their suffering continued. They sighed, cried, and groaned for the Lord, pleading with Him for help.
  2. Although it may not have seemed like it at the time, their prayers did not go unanswered. God was well-aware of everything they endured, and already had a plan in place in which to deal with it. How much had God paid attention to the prayers of His people? Look at the various descriptions in vss. 24-25…

24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.

  1. God “heard” their sighing groans of anguish. He heard the cries of their hearts, understanding their pain.
  2. God “remembered” the promises He made to Abraham, specifically that God would bless those who blessed Abraham, and curse those who cursed him (Gen 12:3). Not that God ever forgot these promises, but He “remembered” them in that it was time to be fulfilled. Those promises once again came to the forefront of His plan.
  3. God “looked” at His children, seeing their suffering. His attention turned directly to His people, and He saw every whip that came down upon them, and every baby that was murdered in the river. Nothing escaped His attention.
  4. God “acknowledged them” – literally saying, “God knew” It wasn’t that God simply nodded in their direction; He knew every bit of the suffering of His people, and He was fixed upon them. Not a thing done unto them would go unanswered, and God would see that His people would have justice.
  5. God did that with ancient Israel, but He does that us, too. There is not a thing we endure He does not know, not a promise He does not keep, not a son or daughter of His that He ignores. He hears, remembers, sees, and knows us, too…all because of Jesus! Have you been suffering and waiting for God to act? Keep your eyes on Him, for He sees you & will act according to His promise!

Conclusion:

A nation needed a deliverer, and a man was convinced he was supposed to be that deliverer. God had raised him up and saved his life on at least two occasions for exactly that purpose. But…that didn’t mean it was yet time for Moses to act as the deliverer. The timing of God had to be right, and God was still doing a work in both the nation and the man. God was getting them both where they needed to be in order that they would be willing to be used by God for His glory. 

Some in Israel were already willing and prepared: the midwives, for example. They maintained a proper fear of God and used the opportunities given them the best way they knew how. Moses, on the other hand, still had much to learn (as did most of the Hebrews). Freedom would not come through the strength or plans of men; it would only come by the grace and power of God. They needed to look to God alone, and wait upon His will.

So do we! God has not forgotten us, so we don’t need to fear that He has by running ahead of Him doing the things that are on our own agenda, instead of His. Wait upon the Lord! Walk according to His will & His word. Some things take time, because there may be more than one thing going on. We’re often so focused on the situation outside of us that we forget about the battles on the inside. Often, God works within us to transform us before He works to transform our circumstances. He cares more about who we are than the things we endure. That’s not to say our situations aren’t important – by no means! God sees us, hears our groanings, and knows us…but He will do His work in His way according to His time. We just need to wait on Him.

The First Martyr

Posted: September 9, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 7:54 – 8:3, “The First Martyr”

Someone had to be the first. As Stephen pointed out to the Sanhedrin, the messengers of God had always been hated and rejected, so it was inevitable that what happened to the prophets of Israel would eventually come to the followers of Jesus. Multitudes of people would be killed for their faith in the risen Jesus, and Stephen was the first.

It hasn’t ended. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an average of 90,000 Christians were martyred per year between 2005 and 2015. (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/04/14/christian-persecution-how-many-are-being-killed-where-are-being-killed.html) Christians around the world (particularly in North Korea, and the infamous 10/40 window) face the reality of death every single day, simply because they name the Name of Jesus. This isn’t ancient history, nor is it a hypothetical situation of what might possibly happen to “someone” “someday.” It happens to many Christians every day, and we need (1) to be aware of it, (2) know how we can pray for our brothers and sisters who endure it, and (3) be prepared for our own much lighter version of it ourselves. We need to look at what happened to Stephen, and learn from the example he gave.

The church had begun, and although there was resistance to the apostles by the Jewish leadership, by & large they were able to continue their ministry without interruption. Yes, they had been placed on trial, jailed, and beaten, but whatever persecution there was against Christianity was limited to the Twelve.

All of that changed with Stephen. Stephen was one of seven Spirit-filled Christian men chosen by the church to assume some of the ministry tasks that, though important, were not the primary duties of the apostles – namely the administration of benevolence to Greek-speaking Christian widows. Stephen had a heart not only to help those within the church, but to evangelize those outside the church, and he actively took the gospel to Greek-speaking Jews in their own synagogue. And he was effective! So much so, that the synagogue rulers were threatened enough to find false witnesses against Stephen, accusing him of blasphemy against Moses & against the temple.

The bulk of Acts 7 records Stephen’s courtroom defense. Given the chance to speak, he testifies of God’s consistent historical faithfulness to the Jews, and their own consistent historical rebellion against Him, which continued to the present day. They were a stubborn, hard-hearted people – acting far more like Gentiles than the covenant-chosen people of God. They had always persecuted the prophets of the past, just like they persecuted and killed the Messiah who had been in their midst.

Obviously that message did not go over very well. The Jews hearing Stephen became enraged, and as a mob, they killed him – making Stephen the first man killed for his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Persecution had officially come to the rest of the church, where it remains until the day of Jesus’ return.

In this passage, we witness not only the death of Stephen, but also the introduction of Saul – thereby setting the stage for one of the most dramatic conversions in history. Saul/Paul did not start off as the apostle to the Gentiles; he was an enemy to the church. Stephen’s stoning was his first act as a persecutor of the Lord Jesus.

What are Christians to do when we face our own modern-day Sauls? (And make no mistake, they still exist!) What do we do when we find ourselves in similar situations as Stephen, being rejected and hated for our faith? We remain faithful to Jesus, keeping our eyes & hopes on Him! Jesus certainly never takes His eyes off us; we don’t take our eyes off Him.

Acts 7:54–8:3

  • Stephen’s death (54-60) / a vision (54-56)

54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.

  1. There was conviction and total rage in the room as they listened to Stephen. When the NKJV says “they were cut to the heart,” it translates the same word used by Luke during the apostles’ trial when Luke says that the Sanhedrin was “furious, and plotted to kill them,” (Acts 5:33) right before Gamaliel spoke up urging caution. Now the Sanhedrin was dealing with all of this gospel message and conviction of their sin all over again, and they returned to their initial reaction: fury. Literally, to saw that they were “cut to the heart” is to say that their hearts were “sawn in two.” Stephen’s accusations hit them like a spiritual gut punch, and their reaction was visceral.
  2. Of course, it wasn’t Stephen who truly convicted them; it was the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught that this would be one of the Spirit’s primary ministries among the world: John 16:8–11, “(8) And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (9) of sin, because they do not believe in Me; (10) of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; (11) of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” We often think of God the Holy Spirit as working among the church (and He does!), but that is not His only The Holy Spirit works among the world convicting them of their sin & their need for forgiveness. Often this occurs through the Spirit-inspired word, which is “living & powerful & sharper than any two-edged sword,” (Heb 4:12), plunging deep into our hearts & minds, discerning what is/is not of God. Other times, the Spirit works through those whom He has filled & empowered to boldly witness of Jesus, as He did with Stephen. Such rock-solid conviction was wrought that the men in the room were crushed by the weight of it.
    1. Keep in mind that the gospel of Jesus is indeed good news, but it can also be offensive It is the power of salvation to those who believe (Rom 1:16), but it is the aroma of death to those who are perishing (2 Cor 2:16). To those who choose to reject Jesus, His gospel is a stone of stumbling and rock of offense (1 Pet 2:8). Some people are bound to be upset when confronted with the message of Jesus. That doesn’t mean we stop proclaiming it; it just means they confirm their own hardness against God.
  3. To say that this particular group got offended is an understatement. Luke says that “they gnashed at [Stephen] with their teeth.” This is the only use of this word in the New Testament, and one dictionary summarizes it as “a sign of violent rage,” (BDAG). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word is used of the wrath of a king being like the roaring of a lion (Prov 19:12). Basically, these people were out-of-control angry, loosing their basic bodily functions. Imagine facing down a pack of rabid dogs – that was what stared Stephen in the face. He was in true danger, and he knew it.
    1. This doesn’t sound like the promises of the gospel that are so often presented today, does it? We’re often told that when we believe in Jesus, all our problems are solved & life gets easy. After all, God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, right? God does love us, and His wonderful plan for us is to be soundly saved from sin and to live forever with Him in heaven…but that doesn’t mean that life gets easy on earth. Born-again Christians quite often face difficult times, endure terrible tragedies, and even face violent death. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us (He does!), or that God has forgotten us (He hasn’t!). God knows exactly what we go through, and He is right there in the midst of it with us. Stephen even received a vision confirming this very thing…

55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

  1. Can you imagine the moment? One minute you’re looking into rage-filled eyes of men about to lose control of themselves and kill you; the next, you’re looking into the heavenly throne room at King Jesus, roused to stand on your behalf. Amazing! From total anger to total comfort in a milli-second! That’s what happened to Stephen, as he was personally comforted by Almighty God.
  2. Notice: Stephen was comforted by the Trinitarian He was “full of the Holy Spirit,” saw “Jesus…the Son of Man,” and saw “the glory of God” with Jesus at His “right hand.” The entire Godhead intervened in the moment, offering comfort and peace to Stephen when he needed it most. Of course, Stephen had already been filled with the Holy Spirit in the past – it was one of his qualifications for being chosen for the benevolence ministry (6:3), and had apparently occurred again when Stephen shared the gospel in the synagogue (6:10). But although every born-again Christian is always indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are not always filled with the Spirit 100% of the time. (Hence the reason Paul commands the Ephesian Christians to “be filled,” – Eph 5:18.) Luke does not explicitly state that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit when he preached to the Sanhedrin, though it seems highly likely that he was – but there is no question he was filled just prior to his death. God the Holy Spirit empowered him to face the terror of the moment, giving him exactly what he needed at the time he needed it. As the Spirit filled him on earth, Jesus appeared to him in heaven – not only confirming Stephen’s faith that Jesus truly is the Son of God risen from the dead, but standing in the position of power at God’s right hand, and standing in support of His faithful witness. And beyond that, Stephen even witnessed the glory of God, the visible manifestation of God’s radiant existence. Like Moses saw God’s glory on Mount Sinai, so did Stephen see God’s glory on Mount Zion. The Almighty Triune God showed Himself to Stephen – what could bring more comfort than that?
    1. Christian: our God does not abandon us…ever! We may or may not receive a vision like Stephen’s, but our Almighty God is just as present with us unseen as He was with Stephen, being seen. God the Spirit fills us, God the Son intercedes for us, God the Father looks upon us. He strengthens us and comforts us when we need Him most, whether or not we recognize His work when He does it. And why wouldn’t He? When you have faith in Christ Jesus, having received Him as your Lord & Savior, you are a child of God. You belong to His family, being both born and adopted as one of His own. Our Father does not leave us when we need Him the most! As parents, what goes through your mind when you see your son or daughter in pain? How much more our Heavenly Father! He comforts…so look to Him for His comfort! Too often we think we need to just “buck up” and do it on our own, screwing a smile on our face as if nothing’s wrong. Why lie to yourself and to God? Something is wrong, and you need God’s help. Guess what? He gives it! Look to Him – rely upon Him – He is right there for you.
    2. That’s true for born-again Christians – but what if you’re not born-again? What if you don’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and are eternally saved? God sees you too, and He is available to comfort you…but in order to receive His comfort you must first receive Jesus as Lord. For now, your sin keeps you separated from God, but your sin can be forgiven in an instant because that was the reason Jesus died on the cross. He paid the price for your sin and rose to life from the grave, and because He did, you also can be made a child of God, comforted by Him. Turn away from your sins, turn to Christ – be saved, and be comforted!
  3. What was it about all this that was so comforting to Stephen? It was a vision of victory. The Sanhedrin and the other Jews in the room may have wanted Stephen dead, but there was Someone else who had power and authority over even them. The highest authority in all the universe stood in defense of Stephen, and Stephen’s faith was justified. He saw Jesus as nothing less than the “Son of Man,” the same title Jesus so often applied to Himself, and the picture of Daniel’s Messianic prophecy: Daniel 7:13–14, “(13) “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. (14) Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.” If Jesus is the Son of Man at the right hand of God in the midst of the glory of God (the “clouds”), then that meant that Jesus was totally victorious. He has conquered sin, death, and the devil, and the only thing that delays the consummation of all things is the perfect timing of God. At the time, it seemed that Stephen was the only one bowing his knee to King Jesus, but one day every knee will bow & every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord! (Our Jesus is the conquering King, already victorious over every enemy!)
  4. BTW – Is there significance to Jesus’ stance? Psalm 110:1 (also quoted by the author of Hebrews, and by Jesus Himself) shows God the Father talking to the Messiah, telling Him to “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Does Jesus sit or stand at God’s right hand? No doubt He normally sits, but when there is occasion to stand, He stands. Stephen’s death was just such an occasion. Just as we might stand in support of a loved one, so Jesus stood in support of His beloved faithful servant and friend.
  • A stoning (57-58)

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. …

  1. Not only had Stephen’s sermon infuriated them, they considered his vision blasphemy. How could someone share a place with God, other than God? Normal people cannot…but that is what the Scriptures proclaim of Jesus, because He IS God. Stephen had just equated Jesus with the Son of Man (something which Jesus also did, and one of the charges against Him at His own trial – Mt 26:64), and was thereby putting Jesus on an equal platform with God. We know this to be theologically true, but to the Jewish leaders, this was blasphemy, and it pushed them over the edge. They couldn’t take it anymore, and they (be it the Sanhedrin, a mob, or a mix of both) rushed forth to kill him. 
  2. Notice how it was they ran at him: “with one accord.” Students of Acts have seen this word used before by Luke, to this point always in reference to the church. The word is literally “one-passion,” (ὁμοθυμαδόν) and it speaks of total unanimity in heart, purpose, and desire. For the church, their “homothumadon” was regarding prayer, fellowship, seeking the Spirit, and their worship of God. For the mob, their “homothumadon” for murder.
    1. That’s the difference between the church and the world. The church is to be united around the things that glorify God; the world often unites in the things that oppose Him. Be united in what counts!
  3. Question: Wasn’t this supposed to be illegal? This was the Sanhedrin’s pretended reason for delivering Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, saying that it was “not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” (Jn 18:31). The whole event with Stephen puts the lie to that statement. Some have speculated that Stephen’s stoning took place during a time that Pilate was not present in Jerusalem, but certainly it could have been stopped by Roman soldiers if it was truly illegal. In all likelihood, the act of execution by the Jews was technically illegal, but Rome didn’t really care if or not they did, as long as it didn’t cause problems for Rome. There are several instances in the New Testament where people were stoned by mobs, without any mention of Roman interference. The Sanhedrin could have killed Jesus if they wanted to; they didn’t, because they wanted Jesus to die in a specific way: via crucifixion. They could have thrown rocks at Jesus, but they wanted Jesus hanging from a cross with Roman approval as a warning to others not to follow. (Of course, Jesus did hang from a cross, but it accomplished precisely the opposite! Jesus’ death and resurrection is a grand invitation to follow Him, because He has paid every debt and won every victory!)

… And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

  1. This is the 1st mention of Saul in the New Testament. Most people today know him by his Roman name, Paul – which Luke later adopts in Acts 13. “Saul” was the name he used around fellow Jews in Jewish areas; “Paul” was the name he used throughout the wider Roman empire, being a Roman citizen from the city of Tarsus. From his letters, we know that Saul/Paul was a student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and a Pharisee, possibly being an official member of the Sanhedrin at the time. Being that he was born outside of Jerusalem, it’s quite possible that Saul was even a member of the synagogue in which Stephen preached the gospel, perhaps even being someone unable to best Stephen in theological debate (Acts 6:9-10). The fact that Luke labels him as a “young man” doesn’t mean that he was too young to be considered an authority. A “young man” could be anyone up to the age of 40. 
  2. More than providing a passing introduction, Luke shows Saul’s position of authority, and his approval. The mob of witnesses against Stephen “laid down their clothes at the feet” of Saul, meaning that he watched over their garments, looking on at their actions without interference. He may not have picked up a stone to cast, but he certainly enabled many others who did.

Not only did Stephen receive a vision from the Lord in the midst of all his suffering, Stephen kept his focus upon the Lord through prayer…

  • A prayer (59-60)

59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

  1. The first thing Stephen prayed for was personal release. We can only imagine the physical anguish of what it is like to have your body physically beaten to death by large rocks being hurled at you. There would be cuts, abrasions, broken bones, massive pain and head trauma – truly a terribly painful way for someone to die. (It’s something that Saul/Paul himself would experience at least once, almost ending in his death – Acts 14:19.) It comes as no surprise that Stephen turned his spirit over to the Lord, asking Jesus to take it from him. This wasn’t a morbid death-wish; it was a hope-filled prayer to be with Jesus sooner rather than later.
  2. Secondly, Stephen prayed for mercy towards his murderers. His death was unjust & undeserved, being truly sinful – but Stephen did not want them charged with this sin. The Jewish Sanhedrin and mob had enough to answer for, regarding their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. Although it is up to God to determine righteous justice, the heart of Stephen was compassionate towards those who demonstrated such hatred to him. Truly, Stephen had the attitude that Jesus taught during the Sermon on the Mount, not only being blessed for being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Mt 5:10), but by praying for those who persecuted him (Mt 5:44). Stephen was so transformed by the love and grace of Jesus, that he loved those who hated him, asking mercy for those who were merciless towards him.
  3. Does it remind you of anyone? Stephen sounded a lot like Jesus! Jesus prayed much the same things while hanging from the cross: Luke 23:34, “(34) Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.” Luke 23:46, “(46) And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ ” Having said this, He breathed His last.” Stephen may not have used Jesus’ exact words, but he modeled the same heart.
    1. What is our response towards those who hate us? Not those whom we merely dislike or have difficulty getting along with – but with whom there is true hatred. How do we treat those who want us dead? For us in the American evangelical culture, situations like that are difficult to imagine, but for Christians around the world it is an everyday occurrence. For some, just walking down the street is dangerous. Their houses are marked – their relatives have abandoned them – their job opportunities are stolen from them. They come eye-to-eye with people every single day who view them as infidels and desire them dead. How are those Christians (all Christians) supposed to respond to people like that? We’re supposed to respond like Jesus & like Stephen. Likewise, we are to extend love, mercy, and compassion. Even when it seems like we ought to seek vengeful retribution, we don’t. Vengeance belongs to the Lord; not to us (Rom 12:19). Our message isn’t one of revenge; it is the gospel of reconciliation. We pray for mercy for those who don’t deserve mercy. After all, we didn’t deserve it either!
  • Saul’s persecution (1-3) / a new era for the church (1-2)

8:1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. …

  1. Saul was no passive bystander. Again, this was something of which he actively approved. The word for “consent” is a double-compound word, which has the idea of “with good consideration.” The way Luke portrays it, it is almost as if Saul was the Sanhedrin representative, demonstrating to the mob that their violence against Stephen had official approval from the leadership.
  2. This was something Saul/Paul remembered the rest of his life (Acts 22:20), but something he was unable to change. Although we may never forget our own sins, praise the Lord that in Christ, God does not hold them against us! As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us! (Ps 103:12)

… At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

  1. Stephen’s death changed everything. Whereas earlier, opposition of the gospel was limited to opposition against the 12 apostles, it now spread to the entire church. Although Luke writes that “all” were scattered “except the apostles,” he certainly did not mean that only twelve Christians remained in Jerusalem. Elsewhere in the book of Acts, it’s clear that there was at least some church in Jerusalem, as it was a launching point for the apostles, prophets, and more. Most likely, Luke means that it was the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Christians that left Jerusalem, as the Hebrew (Aramaic-speaking) Christians could blend in more easily. Whatever the exact number, a large percentage of the church left town for their own safety.
    1. BTW – Praying for those who persecute you doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick around and simply put up with the persecution. Authorities (when friendly) can be contacted, measures of protection can be taken, and people can obviously move (although they become refugees). We can turn the other cheek without giving ourselves over to abuse.
  2. There was good news, however: all the persecution became a tool used by God to spread the church beyond The time had come to push the baby bird out of its nest for a quick lesson in flying, and the baby church was pushed out to the rest of the Jewish world. Remember what Jesus told the apostles prior to His ascension – this fits exactly with His original outlined plan for them. Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In Acts 1-7, the disciples of Jesus were His witnesses in Jerusalem – in Acts 8-12, the disciples are His witnesses throughout Judea and Samaria. It isn’t until Acts 13 that Paul and Barnabas begin their missionary journeys and take the gospel to the end of the earth. But what was it that initially drove the gospel beyond Jerusalem? Persecution. It wasn’t until Christians were forced to leave, that they actually left. As they left, they took the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ with them everywhere they went.
  3. Persecution is never desirable, but it can be helpful. Persecution has a way of separating the wheat from the tares & the sheep from the goats. In cultures that are friendly to Christians (such as most of the USA), it can be easy to slip in among the church without actually being part of the church. False conversion runs rampant. Yet when there is a cost to being a disciple of Christ, false conversions are few. People who don’t have 100% of their hope in Jesus don’t want to be lumped in with those who do, if those who do experience hardship for their hope. But beyond the idea of false conversion is that of true commitment. When true Christians are persecuted, their faith may be tested through fire, but it’s strengthened – it’s purified. If our only hope is Jesus, then how much more precious is that hope, when all our earthly comforts fail! Christians who endure persecution are often some of the strongest Christians you’ll ever meet. [India]
  4. To Luke’s point, persecution also has a way of backfiring upon itself. Instead of smothering evangelism, persecution actually encourages it. (Ironically, it’s the ease of American Christianity today that has led to apathy regarding evangelism!) When Christians endure state-sanctioned hardship, they are forced to hang onto their faith with everything they have…and that’s something noticed by their neighbors. Soon, people want to know the reason for the hope we have within us (2 Pet 3:15). Even when directly facing their persecutors, Christians become more bold with their faith, clearly proclaiming Jesus, stating they will never abandon Him. This has been the case throughout church history. Considered by many to be one of the most influential men of the church fathers, the 2nd century presbyter of Carthage, Tertullian wrote a massive work of apologetics, defending the existence of the church to a Roman empire bent on persecuting them. For fifty chapters, he details how the imperial persecution of Christians was irrational, but concluding that no matter what it was Rome did, the church would not be destroyed. “Semen est sanguis Christianorum,” (Apologeticum, 50.) “The seed of Christians is blood,” or, as often paraphrased in translation, “blood [of the martyrs] is the seed of the church.” It was true then, and it’s true today.

2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

  1. Closes the narrative on Stephen. Although a mob was responsible for his death, more reasonable “devout men” were responsible for his burial. Stephen’s ministry was brief, but it left an impact, and these men mourned him.
  2. The NET Bible makes an interesting point about the “great lamentation,” noting that the Mishnah Sanhedrin tract 6.6 prohibits mourning for those who were stoned to death. “And the relatives come and greet the judges and the witnesses, as if to say, we hold nothing against you, since [we know that] your verdict was just. And they would not [observe rituals of] mourning, but they would grieve, since grief is only in the heart.” (https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Sanhedrin.7?lang=bi) On this, the NET Bible says of Luke’s note, “The remark points to an unjust death.” IOW, these devout men (be they converted Christians or unconverted Jews…Luke doesn’t say) knew that Stephen’s stoning was undeserved. They gave him a lamentation and burial due to an innocent man; not a heretic. Bottom line: Stephen’s death was unjust, and the people knew it & didn’t hesitate to say so.
  3. Of course, that didn’t stop the hatred of others, as seen in Saul…
  • A new enemy for the church (3)

3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

  1. The young theologian Saul now had a new phase of his career: Grand Inquisitor and Persecutor of the church. “He made havoc of the church,” meaning that he wanted the church destroyed. This is the only time in the NT this word is used, and it describes a violent act, “Like the laying waste of a vineyard by a wild boar,” (AT Robertson). The name of Saul drove fear into the hearts of Christians everywhere in Jerusalem (and beyond!). Persecution was a new reality for them.
  2. Yet even here, there is a silver lining. This is who Saul was; it was not who Saul remained. Once he was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ, Saul was instantly transformed, and his whole life was made new. Instead of destroying the church, he worked to build up the church. Instead of dragging men and women off to prison, Paul was often the one taken to prison. Much of Paul’s greatest contribution to Christianity occurred because he was in prison! After all, that’s where many of his epistles were penned. Saul/Paul went from being one of the greatest threats ever faced by the church, to one of the greatest missionaries ever known by the church. That’s what the grace of Jesus Christ can do! Praise the Lord for gospel transformation!
    1. Guess what? It’s not just for Paul – it’s for all of us! If you are in Christ Jesus, you have been radically transformed! We may not have been grand inquisitors or persecutors, but even if we weren’t enemies of the church-at-large, we were enemies of God. We rebelled against Him, and we deserved His judgment. Paul wrote about it so well: 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, “(9) Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, (10) nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (11) And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” In the past, we were those horrible things, but in the present in Christ Jesus, we are something gloriously different! We are cleansed, set apart, made right in the sight of God, and made ready to see Him in eternity for all eternity…we are saved! We went from being His enemies to His children, all because of the work of Jesus. Just like Paul was transformed, so were we, and praise God for it!
    2. Have you experienced this transformation? Maybe you’re not sure…you would know it, if you had. When someone is born-again by the grace of Jesus Christ, that person knows – that person has the confirmation in his/her heart given by the Holy Spirit. Maybe you don’t know if you’re more like the persecutor Saul or the saved-by-grace Paul. You can be sure today!

Conclusion:

With the death of Stephen, a new era dawned upon the church: one of persecution. Stephen became the first martyr of the church age, but he certainly was not the last. Many others of his own generation, and countless others through the centuries have endured similar fates. But…the enemies of the church are not victorious; King Jesus is! Worldly enemies attempt to stamp out the church, but it cannot be done. They try to silence the gospel, but it will not be silenced. Persecution causes the message of Jesus to only ring louder, even to the ends of the earth! Our Jesus has all victory, even over persecution.

And He does not abandon His own. Jesus knows the struggles we and all Christians face, even those who suffer and die for His names’ sake. As with Stephen, He sees us, comforts us, and even stands on our behalf. He welcomes home His saints, and proclaims to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” He is always faithful to us, no matter what it is we face.

So you be faithful to Him. Is persecution a reality? Without question. It has been throughout history around the world, with the United States being the exception that proves the rule. But even here, our window is closing. The time is coming (and is currently arriving) that public Christianity comes at a cultural cost. That cost is worth it! Beloved, be ready for hatred and opposition – it is nothing new. But don’t respond with hate; respond with love. Like Jesus, like Stephen, pray for those who persecute you, entrusting yourself to the Almighty God, Who is more than capable of caring for your needs.

Ending or Beginning?

Posted: September 7, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 49:29 – 50:26, “Ending or Beginning?”

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where one thing ends and another begins. Typically books are more clear-cut, the end of one often coming at the words “The End,” on the page…but sometimes the story goes on. Such is the case with many books of the Bible, particularly the five books of Moses (the Penteteuch).

When studying any passage of Scripture, it’s important to look at both the previous and following context (what came before, and what comes after). In this particular case, what came before is the entire book of Genesis, and what comes after is the entire book of Exodus. With the end of the lives of Jacob and Joseph, what is on display is not only the previous work of God in forming a people for Himself, but a glimpse looking forward to the day that this people becomes a nation, moving forward to the Promised Land (all in anticipation of the Messiah).

So let’s back up. What has led us to this point? Through an act of His will, God created the entire universe, giving life to mankind, and everything was good…until it wasn’t. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, and all of creation fell with them, to which God promised a Savior who would right everything that went wrong: the Seed of the Woman, to be brought forth in future generations. Genesis detailed the family lineage of that Seed (the Messiah) all the way through the worldwide destruction from the global flood, up until the singular calling of a single man whom God knew would walk by faith: Abraham. Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he trusted the word of God, Who made him a unfaltering covenant promise of a land, a people, and a Messiah. Genesis 12:1–3, “(1) Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. (2) I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” Over the course of time, God’s promise would vary a bit in wording, but the essence of it was given to the father (Abraham), repeated to the son (Isaac), and repeated again to the grandson (Jacob). This was the family who would bring a blessing (the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman) to the entire world, and this family would be given a permanent home and grow into an innumerable people.

Because this was the promise of God (repeated promise, at that!), it was certain & sure. Nothing would change God’s mind nor His word. Not the imperfections of this family (though there were many), nor the trials of the world. God would use all of these things to bring about His perfect will, which was exampled in the life of Joseph. The second-youngest son of Jacob/Israel, Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his ten older brothers, only to have that tragedy turn into triumph as God elevated Joseph to being 2nd in command of all Egypt, thus able to save his family from a terrible famine that threatened to destroy God’s chosen people from the face of the earth. God had delivered His people as an act of grace, in spite of their sin, and God even used their sin as the instrument of His deliverance. The work of God is amazing!

As the book of Genesis comes to a close, it does so by not only concluding the narratives of Jacob and Joseph, but looking forward to God’s promises to this family of Abraham. At the time, the clad of Israel was alive, but living outside of the Promised Land. What would happen in the future? Would God’s promises remain true? Yes, and both Jacob and Joseph knew it! They trusted the promises of God, and knew by faith that God is powerful and sovereign enough to see His will done, despite circumstances that could be seen.

Trust the promises of God! What He says, He will do. Of that, we can be sure!

Genesis 49:29–33

  • Israel’s last request (29-33)

29 Then he charged them and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.”

  1. Jacob/Israel was well aware of impending death. Although he hadn’t lived to the age of his father or grandfather, he knew his time had come, and he made his final preparations by informing his sons of his final wishes. (There is basic wisdom here! Don’t leave your family guessing.) No one wants to die, but there is an upside to the realization that death might be soon: we prepare. Few things get a person to think about eternity than the thought of seeing God face-to-face, and Jacob was getting ready for that day.
    1. We don’t all know when we’re going to die, but we all know that we are going to die. The time to prepare isn’t the future; it’s now. Are you ready? If you were to see the Lord God tonight, what would you say? Better yet, what would He say to you? Be prepared!
  2. Interestingly, as Jacob prepared to die, he demonstrated his trust in God’s promise. How so? Because he wasn’t looking at Egypt, but to his possession in the Promised Land. Obviously, Jacob knew he would not be alive to walk around in the land of Canaan, but he knew that was the place promised him by God. That was the place where he wanted his burial – the place where future generations would remember him. Egypt may have been a place of sojourning, but that sojourn was temporary. God promised him the land that had been shown to Abraham, and that was where Jacob/Israel wanted to be.
    1. We also live in a place of temporary sojourning. This world is not our home; heaven is! Live with your real place of residence in mind…
  3. Jacob had a family connection with the land, knowing that it was the burial place of his parents and grandparents. It would be his burial place as well, along with his last remaining wife, Leah. (Rachel had died years earlier, and buried near Bethlehem.) The family connection was important, as it was the reminder of the family covenant he had with God. Again, this was Jacob trusting in God’s promise. He might need to be carried out of Egypt in a wooden box, but he knew God’s word would prove true!

33 And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

  1. Jacob was 147 years old when he died (Gen 47:28). Of all the patriarchs, he perhaps had the roughest experiences coming to faith in the Lord, but he certainly died full of faith. He “was gathered to his people,” being reunited with his loved ones in death as he trusted the promises and person of the Living God.

Genesis 50

  • Israel’s burial (1-14)

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him, and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for him, for such are the days required for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

  1. Although Jacob was not an Egyptian, Joseph commanded the Egyptian custom of embalming for his father. It seems that Joseph believed this to be necessary in order to accommodate his father’s wishes. Not only was it a high honor generally bestowed only upon Egyptian royalty or other high officials, but if Jacob’s body was to be transported along the roads between Egypt and Canaan without the stench of decomposition, something needed to be done. Typically, Hebrews would allow bodies to decompose in a tomb, only many months later to open the tomb, and gather the bones into an ossuary for permanent storage. This would have been impossible in Jacob’s circumstance, which is perhaps why Joseph ordered the embalming (mummification) beyond the idea of honor.
  2. There’s some question whether the mourning lasted 70 days, or 110 days (40+70) total. Either way, it was more than what was required for the custom. All of this points to the high honor bestowed upon Jacob/Israel, not only by his immediate family, but by the entire nation of Egypt. And think of the irony: the Egyptians mourned a Hebrew shepherd, normally considered an abomination (Gen 46:34). That was the impact Israel made upon Egypt!
    1. As Christians, we may not be mourned by the unbelieving people around us, but may we make an impact upon them! May they see our lives, hear our words, and know without a shadow of doubt that we are servants of the Most High God!

4 Now when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the hearing of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back.’ ” 6 And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

  1. Joseph, his family, and the Egyptians had mourned well over two months for Israel (perhaps closer to four!), but things didn’t end there; Jacob still had to be buried in Canaan. And for that, Joseph needed to acquire permission from Pharaoh to go. Interestingly, it seems that Joseph did not speak directly to Pharaoh, although he was the grand vizier (prime minister) of the nation. It’s possible that by this point a different Pharaoh sat on the throne, and Joseph did not have the same political position (although still a trusted advisor), but it seems more likely that due to Joseph’s state of mourning, it would have been inappropriate for him to approach Pharaoh directly. Recall that when Joseph was first pulled from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he had to be shaved and clean (Gen 41:14). Due to his mourning for his father, Joseph probably allowed his beard to grow, thus prohibiting a face-to-face conversation with the Egyptian king.
  2. Whatever the reason for passing along his request to Pharaoh via the royal house, Joseph made him a promise. Actually, there were two promises made: (1) from Joseph to his father, and (2) from Joseph to Pharaoh. Earlier, Joseph had made a solemn oath to Jacob that he would ensure Jacob’s burial in Canaan (Gen 47:31), and now Joseph promised that if Pharaoh allowed him to travel, that he would quickly return to Egypt. Joseph’s reputation had never been in doubt in the past, but his faithfulness is shown here, yet again. Since he was keeping his word to his father, he would surely keep his word to his king. (Likewise, we ought to be men & women of our word! Let your yes be yes, and your no be no; Mt 5:37) 

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds they left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great gathering.

  1. Of note is how many Egyptians were in attendance for Jacob’s funeral. No doubt, much of this was due to support of Joseph, being the high official he was in the court of Pharaoh, but it seems that this was a full-court press. Everyone was there with the exception of Pharaoh himself. Again, it’s striking how many prominent Egyptians joined in the mourning of this Hebrew shepherd. They viewed him as highly blessed by God, partly due to his age & partly due to his parenting of Joseph. They had multiple opportunities to witness his life with their own eyes as Jacob resided in Egypt, and whatever it was Jacob did among them, it left an impact. Although there’s no indication that this generation of Egyptians came to faith, it was certainly a witness of God among them.
    1. This is how Jesus tells us to live: Matthew 5:14–16, “(14) “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Words are incredibly important, but as the cliché states: actions speak louder than words. Don’t get the wrong idea – it’s not that we should do as what is often attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words if necessary.” Words are necessary to the gospel, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). But human words without action are just noise. People need to not only hear of our faith, but see it in action as well. When they witness our sincere love & worship of God, our love for our fellow Christians, and our compassion upon the lost world around us, they will not be able to deny the transformation that has taken place in our lives through the work of Jesus Christ.
  2. Of course, not only were there many Egyptians, but there were many Hebrews present as well. The grand patriarch of their clan had passed, and everyone who was physically able to travel to Canaan for the funeral, did. It was a massive convoy of people from Egypt to the Jordan River – a mixture of Hebrew and Egyptian together. (A miniature preview of what would follow in 400 years’ time, when the nation of Israel and the mixed multitude of Egypt began their Exodus!) 
  3. In light of Exodus, there’s an interesting contrast with Moses. In one of his numerous interactions with Pharaoh, Moses was told by Pharaoh that the Hebrew men could go into the wilderness to worship God, but not the children or their flocks, which Moses promptly refused. (Exo 10:9) With the funeral, the children and flocks stayed behind. Why? It wasn’t yet time for the family of Israel to leave Egypt. Keep in this in mind for later…

10 Then they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. He observed seven days of mourning for his father. 11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

  1. Where was the “threshing floor of Atad / Abel Mizraim”? The text is a bit ambiguous. Usually “beyond the Jordan” is an indication of the Transjordan region, on the east side of the Jordan river. At the same time, it seems necessary for the threshing floor to be rather close to the cave of Machpelah. A couple of different thoughts are suggested: (1) “beyond” could be translated “edge,” meaning that the threshing floor was simply close to the river banks of the Jordan. (2) If Joseph and the convoy took a similar route as Moses & Joshua, then they would have approached the Jordan from the east, needing to cross over it to the west, making it “beyond” the river. Either way, if we have difficulty identifying the precise location, it was certainly known by the people at the time. The convoy that arrived was huge. This was a big deal, attracting much attention! The location was even renamed by the locals. “Abel Mizraim” literally = “Mourning of Egypt.” The arrival of Joseph and the other made a lasting impact!
  2. That was the entry point into Canaan; it wasn’t the final destination. There was even more mourning that took place at this gathering place, and it was only after that time that the convoy continued to the burial cave.

12 So his sons did for him just as he had commanded them. 13 For his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as property for a burial place. 14 And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who went up with him to bury his father.

  1. The family followed through on Jacob’s last request. Jacob was buried in the precise cave he specified, the one belonging by purchase deed to his family. Bottom line, Jacob was finally back in the Promised Land.
  2. Afterward, Joseph kept his promise to Pharaoh & returned to Egypt. Question: Why? This was Joseph’s chance to be home! If the family of Israel had taken all of their children and flocks with them, they could have returned to the land of Canaan and avoided 400 years of slavery. This was the land that God had specifically & repeatedly promised to them, and the 7 years of famine had long-ended by this point. Why go back to Egypt – what was the need? Answer: the famine may have ended, but God’s timing for His people wasn’t yet right. There were other promises and purposes that needed to be fulfilled. God made this clear to Abraham two generations earlier: Genesis 15:13–16, “(13) Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. (14) And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (15) Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”” God spoke this to Abraham right at the same time that God promised Abraham a physical heir to come from his body, Abraham believed unto righteousness, and God made a one-sided covenant promise to him. God affirmed that Abraham’s future descendants would indeed have the land of the Canaanites and Amorites as their home, but before they would receive it, they would dwell outside of it being afflicted. Their affliction had a specific expiration date: 400 years. Why? Because that was the time it would take for the Amorites to fill up on the full measure of their guilt. God was giving this pagan people clear opportunity to repent of their sins, while knowing they would not do it, and the Hebrew people would serve as God’s own instrument of judgment when they finally returned from Egypt. In other words, the 400 years was time enough (1) for Israel to truly grow beyond a clan into a full nation of their own, with their own ethnic identity, and (2) for both God’s mercy and judgment to be displayed to the then-current inhabitants of the land, the Amorites. If Joseph and his brothers had returned to Canaan at the time of Jacob’s funeral, none of that would have happened. God’s timing was perfect for God’s plan, so God had to be trusted.
    1. It’s no different with us. How many times have you found yourself trying to rush the plans of God? Perhaps you have an inkling of what God has in mind for you, but instead of waiting on God to bring it to pass, you resort to your own efforts to get things moving. You wouldn’t be the first to do so, nor the last…but it never works out. God’s work has to be done by God’s power in God’s time, which all assures it is according to God’s will & word, for God’s glory. Wait upon the Lord! By all means, actively proceed with what He has given you, but do not push to do things according to your will & your timing. When it’s right, God will let you know, and you’ll rejoice in how it glorifies Him!

So ends the account of Jacob/Israel – truly the end of an era in the history of God’s people. His sons realized this as well, and feared that things might not work out too well for them…

  • Joseph’s grace (15-21)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.”

  1. The ten older brothers were worried about retribution, perhaps justifiably so. Joseph had a special relationship with their father, and would never have done anything to cause him grief. But with Jacob dead, their “buffer” was gone. Perhaps this would be the time Joseph would seek revenge.
  2. Note: If Joseph had done so, the brothers understood they deserved it. For perhaps the first time in all the years they had been in Egypt, they openly acknowledged their act of evil. Joseph had never restrained himself from talking about it how it was (Gen 45:5), and Jacob had been informed of the evil at some point (Gen 49:23), but Genesis does not record a direct personal confession of the ten brothers. Finally, it’s spoken aloud. What they did to Joseph was truly “evil,” and there was no excuse for it.
    1. Confession doesn’t make excuses for sin; it calls it by its name. Too often, we want to relabel things: lying is “my own truth,” theft is “what I was owed,” lust is “just being human,” etc. The ten brothers could have said, “Yes, what we did to Joseph was wrong, but we didn’t have a choice…” There are no “buts” when it comes to sin. Sin is simply sin – it’s evil – it’s rebellion against God – it is the reason Jesus died upon the cross. When God brings conviction to our hearts, the proper response is clear confession. Agree with God that it is what it is & that you need the forgiveness and cleansing of Jesus…and the promise is He will give it! (1 Jn 1:9)

16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” …

  1. Question: Was this a truth or a lie? Had Jacob really said this in his last days? Technically, we don’t know, as this is unsaid in Genesis. Perhaps there is an implication that this was a lie, or at least an embellishment on behalf of the brothers.
  2. Either way, the idea of forgiveness is very In the Greek New Testament, the idea of forgiveness is often that of “release;” in the Hebrew here, it’s similar: “lift up / take away.” Whatever guilt Joseph had the right to press against his brothers, he is asked to graciously lift off their shoulders. Their crimes are labeled three different ways: trespass, sin, and evil – no holds barred in calling it what it was…but the request was to take it all away. Not because they deserved it, but because they served “the God of your father.” The brothers weren’t owed forgiveness in the slightest (the deserved vengeful justice); it was only because of God that forgiveness was asked.
    1. Forgiveness works no differently today. Why do we not hold the trespasses of others against us? Because of Jesus’ sake! [Parable of Unforgiving Servant] Matthew 18:32–33, “(32) Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. (33) Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’” How can we withhold from others what Jesus has so freely given us? We don’t forgive others because they deserve it; we forgive them because we didn’t deserve it either, yet Jesus still granted it!

… And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

  1. Yet another fulfillment of Joseph’s initial dreams. (Number 5?)
  2. The brothers were humble, and Joseph was soft-hearted for his family. He wept and demonstrated his own humility, acknowledging his own dependence upon the Lord…

19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

  1. Right here is the primary theme of the entire Joseph narrative! From Genesis 37 forward, this is the theological statement that is so clearly made. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” What the brothers did to Joseph was sin, plain & simple. It was trespass, sin, and evil (50:17), with no excuse whatsoever made for their actions. But their evil was overcome by God’s good. Just like the evil that took place in the Garden of Eden was overcome by the good promise of God’s Savior, so was the evil done unto Joseph overcome by God’s plan of salvation for the family of Israel. Jacob’s family had been in danger, not just from 7 years of famine, but from being assimilated into the culture of the Canaanites and Amorites. If Jacob’s family was in danger, then the promise of the Messiah was in danger…and that endangers everything! God had known and foreseen all of this from before the foundation of the world, and His plan perfectly accounted for it, using even the terrible sin of the brothers as an instrument to accomplish God’s perfect good. Both actions were “” The ten brothers did intentional evil to Joseph, but God used the brothers’ evil for intentional good. (God’s will, will always be done!)
    1. What was Joseph acknowledging? God is sovereign! There is no situation or circumstance that can undo or undermine God’s perfect will. This isn’t to say that we are mere robots, with no inclination of freewill, or no real choice over our actions. That is clearly not the case. God tells us not to sin, yet we sin. In order for rebellion to exist, there must be ability to rebel, which we plainly possess. But as true as that may be, the Bible is also clear that there is nothing we do that is beyond God’s power – there is no choice we can make that He has not already foreseen and planned – there is no act of our will that does not ultimately lead to the perfect will of God as He enacted from eons before Creation. God is sovereign! He is powerful enough to give us freewill, and powerful enough to still enact His perfect will over our freewill. 
    2. And this ought to bring much comfort! God’s sovereignty is not a doctrine that ought to trouble us; it’s one in which we ought to rejoice! Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” All too often, this is a verse quoted out of context at inappropriate times (such as offering cold truth when we ought to be weeping with those who weep). But used rightly, this is a truth of gold! There is nothing outside of the ability of God to be used for His glory in the lives of His children. “All things” mean “all things” – even the worst crimes against us and other Christians around the world. Those things (by definition) are not good, but God works them for His good. And because He does, we can rest in that fact! His sovereignty offers us tremendous peace.
  2. It was because of Joseph’s trust of God’s sovereignty that Joseph could so quickly offer forgiveness to his brothers. He gave them both mercy and grace. Mercy = no revenge. Grace = provision. He didn’t have to give them anything except prison; instead, he offered wonderful gifts out of compassion. He “spoke kindly” to them – literally meaning that he spoke to their hearts. He knew their need, and he graciously met it. Joseph knew the Almighty Living God, and because he did, he could leave all things in His hands.
  • Joseph’s last days (22-26)

22 So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s household. And Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. 23 Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were also brought up on Joseph’s knees.

  1. Joseph’s final days were blessed in Egypt, being able to see his grandchildren to the third generation. All in all, Joseph lived 93 years in the land of Egypt, but it never was his home. He knew it, and he looked forward to the future and the fulfillment of God’s promises…

24 And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

  1. The Hebrew grammar is of note: there’s an emphasis on God’s act of visiting (the infinitive absolute). God would surely keep His promises, and come to them (so to speak). They were His people, and He had appointed for them a day of deliverance, with there being no doubt He would keep His appointment!
  2. God never forgets His people – He never forgets His promises! As grand as this is regarding the temporal promises of God (promises for wisdom for those who ask, peace for those who pray, etc.), how much better this is regarding His eternal promise of salvation through Jesus Christ! Has Jesus forgiven those of us who have faith in Him? Surely, yes! There is no condemnation for those in Christ, and nothing (height nor depth nor any created thing) can separate us from Him & His love! Trust Him – rest in Him. What He says, He does, guaranteed!

25 Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

  1. Like his father, Joseph also desired to be buried in the Promised Land, although he doesn’t specify that he be buried in the same family burial tomb in Machpelah. (Jacob is later buried in Shechem, after Joshua leads the people in conquest of the Promised Land – Josh 24:32.)
  2. Joseph had faith that God would get him there…and God did!

Conclusion:

The book of Genesis ends with two deaths, but it really ends with the promise of life. The people of God were in Egypt, but God would not leave them there indefinitely. There was a new beginning on the way. There was a promise of deliverance, and faith that God would accomplish it. The children of Israel had a covenant guarantee of a future home and a future Messiah, and God would see it done. And He did, because God is always true to His word.

Trust the promises of God!

Acts 7:37-53, “Stephen’s Sermon: Israel’s Rebellion”

It’s one of the most famous courtroom scenes in movie history: Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” sitting as a witness in a pristine Marine uniform, shouting back at Tom Cruise: “You want the truth?! You can’t handle the truth!” In the movie, this was part of a plan to goad Nicholson’s character into giving a confession of a crime without knowing he was confessing. (It worked!) 

In the Bible, Stephen might have said something similar (without all the cursing!), but with the guilt reversed. He was innocent of all charges against him, but his prosecutors & judges couldn’t handle the truth of what he was accused of. Crimes had indeed been committed against God, but they were to blame; not him.

This is Part 2 of Stephen’s self-defense during his trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Remember that Stephen was one of seven Spirit-filled men chosen by the church to be servants (deacons) assisting the apostles in the benevolence ministry. The Greek-speaking widows in the church had been inadvertently neglected in the daily distribution of funds and/or food, and Stephen was part of the ministry team assigned to help them. His personal ministry service did not end there, as he engaged in powerful & passionate evangelism among Greek-speaking Jews in their own synagogue in Jerusalem. Stephen was so effective at it that it caused a disturbance among the synagogue rulers, and they found false witnesses willing to testify that Stephen had blasphemed Moses (via changing the customs and traditions of Moses), and blasphemed the temple. As a result, Stephen was made to stand trial.

Stephen had much to say, and the way he did it, he reviewed a great deal of Hebrew history as he made his case. He defended himself to an extent, but what he was really doing was making the case that it was the Jews who had been unfaithful to God in the past and in the present. They had rejected Him. For His part, God had always been faithful. He made promises to the patriarchs, and kept them. Whether the promise was for land or for freedom from Egyptian slavery, God was faithful to His word every single time. It was the people who weren’t always faithful. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery – the Hebrew slaves initially rejected Moses. Even after Moses led the people out of slavery, they still grumbled against him in the wilderness.

No matter how many promises God kept for His people – no matter what authenticating signs He worked through His prophets – the Hebrews had a history of rebellion. That was true in the days of Moses, and it was true in the days of Jesus. Ultimately, that was the point Stephen made to the Sanhedrin. What the Jews were doing at the time was the same thing they had always done: reject God and God’s messengers (in this case, the apostles & the rest of the church).

All of this comes to a head in the second part of Stephen’s sermon. Moses was soundly rejected, God was flatly refused, and God’s temple was profoundly misunderstood. Although Stephen had been put on trial for blaspheming Moses & the temple, the true blasphemy had taken place long before, and was upheld by the current generation of Jewish leaders. They engaged in the same sin as their fathers: they rejected God and His prophets.

Be careful not to make the same mistake! Don’t reject God – receive Jesus and respond to Him as you receive the word of His apostolic messengers contained in the New Testament. When you respond to the gospel, you respond to Jesus! The key is to be humble enough to know you need to respond!

Acts 7:37–53

  • Rejecting Moses (37-39a) / rejecting the messenger of God

37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’

  1. Contextually, Stephen had been speaking about Moses. Moses had experienced a miraculous birth and upbringing, and rightly believed God would use him to deliver Israel out of slavery. Yet when Moses first attempted to do so, he was soundly rejected by the Hebrews around him, who viewed him more as an entitled rich interloper than the national deliverer given by God. At age 40 he fled Egypt and spent the next 40 years in Midian learning humility and the finer points of shepherding. (Both of which would be necessary qualities when leading God’s people through the wilderness!) Of course God did call Moses, and personally commissioned him to return to Egypt as the deliverer, empowering him to work incredible signs and wonders not only in Egypt, but beyond.
  2. That Moses was foundational in the life of the Hebrew people. That Moses was a prototype of the prophets, judges, and rulers to come. But even that Moses did not believe himself to be the end-all of Hebrew leaders. There was another, a better-than-Moses still to come in the future. Moses prophesied of Messiah. Stephen quotes Deuteronomy 18:15, just as Peter did in Solomon’s Portico after healing the man born lame in his feet (Acts 3:22). God had a wonderful plan for Moses, but God’s plan did not end with Moses. Even Moses pointed to Someone else: a Prophet who would not be him, but would be like That future Prophet would be raised up by God, given the words of God, and perform miracles by the power of God. No other prophet in the past could check all the boxes. Some would be given God’s words (ex: Isaiah & Jeremiah) – others would be entrusted with God’s power (ex: Elijah, Elisha) – some might even have incredible callings and commissions (ex: Jonah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist). Few (if any) would have it all…except Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth had a miraculous birth & calling – He spoke the words of God with authority – He performed countless miracles on a scale unseen since the days of Moses (if not since the days of Creation!). And more than that, He had the right to rule. Other prophets of the past spoke on God’s behalf, but they did not rule as God’s representative like Moses. This new Prophet, would! Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on earth, and is coming back not only to reign over the restored nation of Israel, but every single kingdom of the world. This new Prophet is not only like Moses, but He surpasses Moses in every way!
  3. To the point at hand: How could Stephen have spoken ill of Moses (blasphemed him), when (1) Moses wasn’t to be worshipped, and (2) Moses spoke of another Prophet yet to come (i.e. the Messiah)? All Stephen did was speak of the same Prophet of which Moses spoke. Stephen was the one taking the words of Moses seriously; not the synagogue leaders. If the synagogue leaders (and the Sanhedrin, for that matter!) listened to Moses, they would have listened to Jesus. To write of Jesus as the Messiah was to write off everything that all the previous prophets had written about Him, including Moses.
    1. This is what happens when a person is hard-hearted against God. It’s one thing for a person to have questions about Jesus and want to know the truth; it’s another to start off on the offensive and be stubborn in one’s will against God. Many people who claim to be “skeptics” regarding Christianity aren’t really “skeptical” at all; they’re stubborn. They made up their minds in advance and are unwilling to believe, despite the vast amount of evidence in front of them. It was true for the Jewish synagogue leaders & Sanhedrin, and it’s just as true today.
    2. What is the solution to stubbornness? Hard hearts are made soft through humility. Be willing to admit what you don’t know, and come to Jesus based on who He is, and who He has proven Himself to be, in light of the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Will it take a step of faith? Without question. But as the Bible says: Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Humble yourself, and believe!
  4. Besides prophesying of the future Messiah, what else did Moses do with Jesus? He spoke with Him! 

38 “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, 39 whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. …

  1. When Stephen says that Moses spoke “with the Angel” on Mount Sinai, what Stephen is saying is that Moses spoke with God. The “Angel” is the Angel of YHWH, which was the visual representation of God Himself. Properly speaking, God is Spirit (Jn 4:24) and thus, God cannot be seen. John wrote that no one has seen God at any time (Jn 1:18), because, by definition, spirit is invisible (like the wind). Besides the physical quality of God (for lack of a better word), there is His moral quality. He is so pure and holy and righteous that no one can look at Him and live (Exo 33:20). Yet we know that people have seen God. Isaiah saw the throne room of God (Isa 6), Jacob wrestled with God on the night he was named Israel (Gen 32:30), and Moses saw the glory of God on Mount Sinai (Exo 19-20). If these men could not see the invisible God, then who/what did they see? They saw the Angel of the Lord (YHWH), God’s own self-revelation of Himself, who was none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus! Paul wrote of Jesus, that “He is the image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15), and thus every instance in which God is made visible in the Old Testament was an instance when the Lord Jesus appeared to men. When Moses spoke with God as a friend, speaking to Him face-to-face (Exo 33:11), Moses spoke with the Messiah Jesus.
    1. When we know Jesus, we know God. It’s that plain & simple. Jesus told the disciples that if they had seen Jesus, they had seen the Father (Jn 14:9). It’s no different with us, in faith. The way to know God is to know Jesus. In fact, it is the only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one goes to the Father except through Him! (Jn 14:6)
  2. So Moses spoke with Jesus, the Angel of YHWH, and received “living oracles” from Him. All of the traditions of the Jews, which they accused Stephen of blaspheming, were (supposedly) derived from the laws of Moses. Those laws were given him by God (the Angel of YHWH) on Mount Sinai. Those laws were good, because they came from God. Those laws were more than just words; they were alive. They were “living oracles” passed down through the generations, preserved in the pages of the Bible. Unlike the rabbinical tradition, the living oracles of God had the authority of God because they came from God. (Yet the Jews of the day often subordinated the word of God to the preferences of men…not unlike people of this day!)
    1. The Bible says of itself that God’s word is living, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12). It is powerful because it is breathed out by God – it is alive, and it gives life to those who believe. Don’t reject the living words of God!
  3. Stephen points out that their forefathers not only rejected the living oracles of God, but messenger who gave them those oracles. As much as the ancient Hebrews depended upon Moses, they despised him, grumbling & complaining against him at every turn. Even while Moses was actively on Mt. Sinai receiving the commands of God from God Himself with the visible glory of God resting on the mountain, the Hebrews still rebelled!
  • Rejecting God (39b-43)

… And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

  1. By rejecting Moses, Israel rejected both Moses and The event Stephen mentions is one of the greatest disgraces in the history of the Hebrews. Again, Moses is actively on the mountain, and God’s glory is actively visible to all. The Israelites were so afraid of God after He spoke to all the people, giving them the Ten Commandments, that they begged Moses to speak to God by himself on their behalf (Exo 20:19). God made Himself available to all, but they trembled in His presence and begged for a mediator (we have a far better one in Jesus!). But even though God and Moses gave them what they requested, they still rebelled. Moses had been on the mountaintop 40 days, and the people pretended he was dead. Stephen quotes Exodus 31:1, with the Hebrews pulling Moses’ brother Aaron aside, demanding that he forge for them an idol to worship. They claimed not to know what became of Moses…as if God’s glory wasn’t still visible! This was not an act born out of ignorance and desperation; it was an act of rebellion. They knew exactly where Moses was, and they also knew that the true God who brought them out of Egypt was nothing like the gods of Egypt. They simply decided they didn’t want that God.
  2. What did Israel want? They wanted to worship something they could see – something that they could wrap their minds around – something that was familiar to them from the things they had previously known. IOW, they wanted something that they could control. If their “god” came from the gold that was among them, forged from the fires they formed, then that was a god they could make into whatever image they desired.
    1. This is what all idolatry is. It’s what we do as well, even though our idols rarely take the form of golden statues of animals. We take whatever idea of god we have in our own minds, forming this god to be exactly what we want him to be, picking & choosing from our own personal preferences. We may even quote Bible verses in support. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), so our version of “God” fits whatever our definition of love might be, while ignoring the many other verses that speak of God’s holiness. Our god wouldn’t actually judge anyone or allow someone to go to hell & perdition, so we just write that out of our minds. (Or pick the attribute of your preference…) Hear this clearly: that is idolatry. When we invent an image of god that is something other than the God of the Bible, then we have become idolaters.
    2. The saddest part of all is that God has given us an image: the Lord Jesus Christ, yet it is that image that is so often ignored: Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” “Image” = icon (εἰκών), the representation/revelation of God given by God Himself. When God showed us Himself, He showed us Jesus. We don’t make an image; God gave us one. But people say, “That’s too restrictive, too exclusive. You shouldn’t have to believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven.” Why not? God wants us to go to heaven – why wouldn’t He? He created us, having formed us in our mothers’ wombs. He loves us, and wants to see us with Him forever. He’s even told us very clearly how it can be done: go through Jesus. Sometimes we need to be able to visualize what God might be like, so God showed us: it’s Jesus. Jesus is loving & He’s holy. He’s powerful & He’s compassionate. He powerfully conquers His enemies, and He is victorious over sin & death. Jesus shows us everything we need to know about God. Look to Him, and be saved!
  3. The worst part? Aaron gave into the Hebrews’ idolatrous demands and agreed to do it! Whether he feared for his life, or he thought he could redirect the Hebrews into worshipping the true God through false means, we don’t know. The Scripture says nothing about his motive, but it does describe his failure. He took their gold that God had graciously given them as 400 years’ worth of back-wages from Egyptian slavery, put it into the fire, and formed the golden calf. (And when later confronted by Moses, he gave the lamest excuse in history. “I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.” – Exo 32:24) Of all people at the base of the mountain, Aaron was the one person who should have stood firm for God. He had been Moses’ mouthpiece when confronting Pharaoh. He too saw the revelation of God, personally witnessing the miracles of God. Yet Aaron failed miserably, and made the golden calf.
    1. Amazingly, God still specifically chose Aaron to serve as high priest. What is that? That is grace! God had a plan for Aaron that went beyond his failure. If God did that for Aaron, think what He has in mind for us! (It is never too late to be used by the Lord for His glory. Bask in His grace!)
  4. Since the people had rejected God & God’s messenger, what would be God’s response? They would be rejected as well. 

42 Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’

  1. Did God give up Israel? Not immediately, but yes. He threatened to do it right there at Mount Sinai, with Moses pleading and interceding on their behalf (Exo 32:31-32). Even so, it was a sign of things to come. The event with the golden calf was perhaps the worst failure of the Hebrews (apart from their rejection of Jesus as Messiah), but it was not their only failure. They rebelled against God’s command at the border of the Promised Land, and spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness. They repeatedly grumbled against Moses in the desert. Once in the Promised Land, they refused to cast out the Canaanites as they were originally commanded. During the time of the judges, they entered a terrible cycle of idolatry, invasion, oppression, repentance, and deliverance. During the time of the kings, they followed the whims of whatever man held the office – sometimes worshipping the Lord, but mostly walking in the footsteps of their pagan Gentile neighbors. So yes, God “gave them up.” He allowed the northern kingdom of Israel to be conquered by the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom of Judah to be conquered by the Babylonians. Both kingdoms were severely disciplined by God, with only a remnant of people remaining who actually worshipped Him.
  2. Stephen quoted Amos 5:25-27, from LXX, and interestingly replaced “Damascus” with “Babylon.” Amos wrote during the days of King Uzziah of Judah, predating the ministry of Isaiah, meaning that he wrote just prior to Israel’s fall to Assyria & long before Judah’s fall to Babylon. In the original prophecy (both the Hebrew and Greek versions), God said through Amos that the northern kingdom of Israel would be sent into captivity “beyond Damascus,” a chief city of Syria, fitting the Assyrian conquest well. Stephen seems to have taken a bit of liberty with the text, being that he spoke to the descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah who went into Babylonian captivity. The prophecy may have originally been spoken to Israel/Samaria, but it applied just as well to Judah. 
  3. The point? The Hebrews never worshipped God rightly. No matter what later kingdom into which they fell, they were always idolaters. Sure, they went through the motions of religion during their years in the wilderness – at least sometimes. But whatever little they did in worship, they did insincerely. Most of what they offered in worship, they offered to pagan gods. They sacrificed children to the Canaanite god of Molech. They worshipped “the host of heaven,” as they did with “Remphan,” a name for the deified planet Saturn. They made “images,” towers, and high places, all designed to worship something other than the Living God. God had graciously revealed Himself to them, and they responded with scorn. They chose to worship the false gods of their imaginations rather than the true God who loved them and delivered them out of Egypt to be His own people.
    1. How accurate this is to our own culture! Even for Christians born out of the Protestant Reformation and the revivals of the Great Awakening, we are little better than the ancient Israelites. People go to church services and go through the motions of religion, but rarely engage in true worship. They might be members of a church congregation, even faithfully giving their finances & time, but they worship a god they made up in their minds. They dictate to God the things that they want, caring little to nothing for the things God wants. They want Jesus as a butler, but not as a king. How is that any different than ancient Israel? Why would God treat a people like that any differently?
    2. The good news is that this isn’t how we have to be! We don’t have to fit the stereotype of the religious hypocrite, or the well-meaning idolater. Jesus has invited us to worship Him in spirit & truth (Jn 4:24), and we can! Come to Jesus as He is – receive Him for who He has revealed Himself to be, and respond in humble faith.

So that was Moses, but remember there were two basic charges against Stephen. Not only was he accused of blaspheming Moses and desiring to change the Jewish customs from Moses’ law, but Stephen was also accused of blaspheming the temple, claiming that Jesus would come to destroy it (Acts 6:14). That’s where Stephen transitions next…

  • Misunderstanding the Temple (44-50) / making more of the building than the Builder

44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen,

  1. The children of Israel did not have to invent an image for themselves to try to worship God; God Himself showed them how He wanted to be worshipped. Exodus chapters 25-30 are filled with very specific instructions given by God to Moses of how the tabernacle was to be built, including the specific designs of what it was to look like. God gave Moses a vision of how the lampstand was supposed to look (Exo 25:40), how the tents and boards were to be put together (Exo 26:30), and even filled the appointed craftsmen with the Holy Spirit and wisdom to make the items exactly according to God’s specifications (Exo 31:1).
  2. And it wasn’t just the place of worship; God was specific about the manner of worship. Not only did God instruct Moses about the tabernacle, but God instructed him how to use it. There were the initial instructions given to Moses during the forty days he was on Mount Sinai, but then there was the entire book of Leviticus – in essence, an instruction manual for the priests, and a clear-cut document on the holiness of God.
  3. Bottom line: idolatry was totally unnecessary. Israel never had to guess at how God desired them to worship Him; He told them how to do it. Question: Does God tell us? Yes! Not only does God give us His image in Jesus Christ – not only does He tell us in general terms that God is to be worshipped in spirit and truth – He gives us specific example of how it should be done in the pages of the New Testament. Like the early church, we are to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” (Acts 2:42) – we are to use our different spiritual gifts “according to the grace that is given us,” (Rom 12:6) – we are to let all things in worship “be done decently and in order,” (1 Cor 14:40) – we are warned against quenching the Spirit & despising prophecies while being sure to test all things (1 Ths 5:19-21) – we are to pray in all things, feeling free to lift up holy hands (1 Tim 2:8), and more. A wonderful description is given in the book of Ephesians: Ephesians 5:17–21, “(17) Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (18) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Does all of this look different from congregation to congregation? The Scripture nowhere tells us we have to begin worship at 10am with prayer, sing five songs, give announcements, then the message – nor that people have to dress in suit & tie, with the pastors wearing certain distinct garments – nor that buildings have to have stained glass, nor specify what musical instruments may or may not be used, etc. But whatever individual practices we have among our congregations, they must be ruled by Scripture. God has shown us how it is He is to be worshipped, so we worship Him in that way. We approach God on His terms; not our own.
    1. Individuals go wrong on this when they engage in idolatry (i.e., not going through Jesus). Congregations go wrong on this when they go beyond the Scripture. This can be done through ritualistic religion (elevating the role of priests to personally convey the grace of God through baptism, communion, etc.), or through wild, unguarded practice (barking like dogs, looking for gold dust from the ceilings, making wild untested prophecies). Both extremes are unbiblical worship…be careful!
  4. As for Stephen, it was clear that God did give clear instruction on how to be worshipped. That was what the tabernacle was. And it wasn’t just the tabernacle…

45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house.

  1. Both the tabernacle and the temple were made God’s way. The tabernacle was made under the direction of Moses according to the instructions given by God, and it was used for generations. Its successor was the same. The temple was also made according to the instructions received from God as God gave them to David, although it wasn’t David who built it, but his son Solomon (1 Chr 28).
  2. Question: Was there anything wrong with building the temple to replace the tabernacle? Some have noted that Stephen is so brief, that he almost seems dismissive about it. No – at least, not when it was built God’s way according to God’s instruction (which it was). David almost jumped the gun on this (and the prophet Nathan initially gave him approval & a false-start! – 2 Sam 7:3), but although David was a man after God’s own heart, David was a man of war & blood. God’s desire was for Solomon to build it, and that was the effort God blessed.
  3. But the key was to see the temple for what it was: a place to worship God, but not a place to be worshipped. This was perhaps easier to do with the tabernacle, being that the Levites had to physically assemble it at every campsite in the wilderness. It was harder to see the tabernacle as being anything more than a tent where people came to worship God, because it was reinforced every time the Israelites moved. The temple, on the other hand, was far more permanent. A building has a potential to become an idol in itself, as people attach far too much importance to it. (Which was what they did with Stephen, and that was exactly what Stephen was pointing out.)

48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 49 ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest? 50 Has My hand not made all these things?’

  1. The temple was God’s chosen place to be worshipped, but it was not God’s house. God is bigger than the universe; He’s far bigger than the temple! Stephen quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 describing the infinite expanse of God. Remember that God is Spirit, so part of this means that He is not confined to any one particular place. Theologically speaking, one of God’s attributes is His omnipresence: He is everywhere. Note: this is different than the Eastern idea of pantheism, which is the belief that God is in everything (in that leaf, in that rock, in the air, etc. – there is god in him and god in her, and all humans are part of the oneness of god). Pantheism is unbiblical, because the Bible clearly teaches that God is other than us. He is Creator; we are the created – He is holy; we need to be made holy – He is Father; we are His enemies until Jesus makes us His children, etc. The Biblical doctrine of omnipresence teaches that God’s presence is everywhere, basically stating that there is no place where God is not. David asked in the psalms, “Where can I go from Your Spirit, or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Ps 139:7) David was never anyplace where God could not reach him. (Neither are we!) That’s the point with Isaiah as well. How can God be contained in a house, when God cannot be contained by the entire universe? He is the Almighty Creator God, far bigger than these things!
  2. If that’s the case, then how is it possible that Stephen could “blaspheme” the temple? A physical building can be a place of worship, but it isn’t the object of worship. Only God can be blasphemed; a building is just a building. The Jewish leaders accusing Stephen of blaspheming the temple had obviously lost sight of what was most important. It’s not the building that counts; it is what takes place in the building.
  3. And what was it that had recently taken place in the building in question? The blood money paid to Judas in order to betray Jesus had been thrown there. It wasn’t the temple that was blasphemed; it was the Messiah who was. That’s when Stephen brings it home…
  • Accusation: Murderers! (51-53)

51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.

  1. The turn is so sudden and so forceful that some have wondered if perhaps Stephen was interrupted by the Sanhedrin, or perhaps he just lost his patience with them. Whatever was the mood in the room prior to this point, it no doubt changed in an instant! Stephen drastically turns the tables on the Sanhedrin and synagogue leaders, going from defendant to prosecuting attorney in nothing-flat.
  2. Stephen couldn’t have gotten more pointed, if he tried. He flatly accused the Jews of acting as if they were Gentiles. Just like God had said to Moses on Mount Sinai at the time of the golden calf that the Hebrews were a “stiff-necked” people, so were their descendants centuries later. They were stubborn in their sin, and they were hard-hearted against God. They acted as if they didn’t have any covenant with God at all. They might have gone through the ritual of circumcision in the flesh, and they had all of the outward pretense of being religious people, but they were pagan in their hearts & as Gentile as they came. That was their history as a people, and that was how the current leadership continued.
  3. How did the Jews “resist the Holy Spirit”? They resisted everything about Him: they resisted His messengers, they resisted the Messiah, they resisted His message…

52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

  1. They killed the prophets. This wasn’t new with Stephen; Jesus accused them of exactly the same thing. (Lk 11:47-51) They may have built the tombs of the prophets, but they were also the ones who killed the prophets. They were guilty of the deaths from the first (Abel, killed by his brother Cain in Genesis) to the last (Zechariah, killed at the altar in 2 Chronicles, the last prophet written in the Hebrew canon).
  2. They killed the Messiah. Not only had the Jews of ancient Jerusalem persecuted the prophets of God, but they also persecuted the One of whom they prophesied. They foretold the arrival of the ultimate Righteous Man of God, the Messiah, and the Jewish leadership opposed Him from the very beginning. No matter how many signs and wonders Jesus had done, authenticating His ministry, the leadership wanted nothing to do with Him, and they actively sought out a way they could get rid of Him. As Peter said on the day of Pentecost, they took Jesus with “lawless hands” (Acts 2:23), and they became His “betrayers and murderers.”
  3. They “killed” the law. The Hebrews received divine revelation and despised it. Be it the instructions on pure & holy worship, the prophecies regarding the Messiah, or the doctrine of God Himself, they may have preserved the holy word of God (for which we can be grateful!), but they did not obey it. They ignored it from the time it was initially given all the way to the present day.
  4. Sadly, the Jewish people still do the same thing as their forefathers. Their eyes are blinded to the truth of Jesus as Messiah, and thus they still do not keep the law that was given to them. Pray for them! Pray for their eyes to be opened, for their stubbornness to be broken, and for them to be saved by the grace of Jesus.
    1. Guess what? It isn’t just them; it’s us! Our own culture is guilty of much of the same. We have also resisted the Holy Spirit, despised the message and messengers of the gospel, and turned away from Jesus. Who in our own southern Bible-belt culture has never heard the news that Jesus died for our sins? Who on the street cannot at least state the claim of the Bible that Jesus is God? People are aware of Jesus, but they have despised Him. Pray! Pray for eyes to be opened around us – pray for people to humble stubborn hearts – pray for people to be saved!

Conclusion:

Who truly committed blasphemy? It wasn’t Stephen! The whole history of the Hebrew people was filled with their continued rejection of God and His merciful outreach. God gave them prophets & prophecies – God gave His self-revelation – God gave them instructions how they could worship Him…and they rebelled. Although there were brief times of revival and Spirit-led worship among the Israelites, they were short-lived. The bulk of their history was one of stubborn stiff-necked rebellion against God, and it continued right to their rejection of Jesus and Jesus’ followers.

That was the ancient Jews, but it wasn’t just the ancient Jews. The same thing continues today among Israel and the entire world. Think of your own life. Before you became a Christian, how hard-hearted were you against God? How often did you resist the Holy Spirit, and His leading you to Jesus? Oh, the grace of God, that He continued to reach out to us! What love and compassion, that He would pursue us to the point of salvation!

Sadly, we often still rebel even after we are saved! We have Jesus and the teaching of the Bible to tell us who God is, what He is like, and how to worship Him…and yet we reject it to follow our own personal preferences. “My God would never do ­­­____.” “Maybe what the Bible says is true for you, but not for me.” “Surely God wouldn’t mind _____.” Know this: that’s nothing less than idolatry and rebellion…no different than the sin of ancient Israel.

Beloved, God has so much better in mind for us than that! God loves us, and He wants us to worship Him. He wants us to know Him rightly. He wants us to daily experience His mercy & grace, full unfettered relationship with Him through Jesus. But we must go to Him on His terms; not ours. We must submit ourselves to His word; not force our own mind upon Him.

Where there is rebellion in your life, cease. Listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, stop resisting Him, and submit to Him. We have the opportunity to follow through where ancient Israel failed…don’t waste it!

Jacob’s Blessings

Posted: August 30, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 48:1-49:28, “Jacob’s Blessings”

Some things are too important to leave unsaid. Few people know how many days we are given in this life, so it’s important to say the things that need to be said while we have the opportunity to say them. This is especially true the older we get. Not long ago, I took the opportunity to write letters to my aging parents, thanking them for their sacrifices through the years, and my love and respect for them. I didn’t want the end to come without them knowing how I felt, so I put it down on paper.

It’s unlikely that Jacob thought his own words would be put in writing – much less read by millions of people over the course of thousands of years – but Jacob did something similar with his own sons and grandsons. Knowing that the end of his life was approaching, he gathered his children to himself and said the things that needed saying.

It wasn’t always cheery, but it would prove to be always true. In Chapters 48-49, Jacob functions not only as a patriarch, but as a prophet. He speaks not only of the things on his heart, but the things of the mind of God for the future of the nation of Israel. In the process of blessing his sons, Jacob spoke of the ultimate blessing: the Messiah. The 12 tribes of Israel set the stage for the future king of Israel, the future King and blessing to all the world!

By now, we’re familiar with the background. After years of slavery and prison – after elevation from the dungeon to the highest positions of the Egyptian palace – Joseph was finally reconciled with his brothers and reunited with his father. The whole family of Israel came to the land of Egypt in the midst of a terrible famine, and was delivered from the remaining five years of suffering. Pharaoh granted his permission for the Hebrews to dwell in the land of Goshen, which allowed them to continue working as shepherds, in addition to being incubated as a nation. Although they were in Egypt, they were effectively quarantined from the Egyptian culture, able to multiply exceedingly with their own cultural and national identity. Seventeen years soon passed, and as Jacob/Israel prepared to die, he had Joseph swear to return his body to Canaan. Although Jacob was glad to be delivered in Egypt, he was trusting in the promise of God, and knew that Egypt was not his (or his children’s) permanent home.

It’s at this point he calls his children for their final blessings. These are not Jacob’s final words (so to speak), but they are his final “official” words to his children. This was when he delivered the double-portion birthright, and passed on the covenant of God that had been passed to him from Abraham and Isaac. But unlike with previous generations, the covenant was not passed to one son; it was passed to all, in specific yet different ways. They would all be blessed to various extents, but there were different roles for them in the future. The most important of which, would be given to a son not even Jacob expected: Judah, as his lineage led to the future Messiah.

All in all, it didn’t matter what Jacob planned for his children; what mattered was God’s plan. God does have a plan for His people, and His plan is salvation through Jesus Christ!

Genesis 48: Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons

  • Initial greeting (1-7)

1 Now it came to pass after these things that Joseph was told, “Indeed your father is sick”; and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And Jacob was told, “Look, your son Joseph is coming to you”; and Israel strengthened himself and sat up on the bed.

  1. Time passed from Jacob and Joseph’s last encounter – how much, we do not know, although we know that Jacob lived 17 years in Egypt beyond his initial arrival at 130 years of age. At some point, Jacob became weak to the point he realized that death was approaching, and he wanted to put his final affairs in order. That’s when he sent for Joseph, who lived among Pharaoh’s household rather than Israel’s household in the land of Goshen. This was the two of them preparing to say “goodbye” to each other – a bittersweet moment, indeed.

3 Then Jacob said to Joseph: “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession.’

  1. Remember that Luz = Bethel. These were the events of Genesis 28, 35, when God twice appeared to Jacob and Jacob was committed to following the Lord in faith. Although Isaac had promised the covenant to Jacob, it was God Himself who personally affirmed it, and it was something Jacob never forgot. God promised to make him a fruitful nation, and that this nation would dwell in a fruitful land.
  2. There is one addition here not listed earlier in the earlier accounts: the land was to be “an everlasting possession.” It was forever! This may not have been recorded when Jacob encountered the Lord in Bethel in Genesis 28 & 35, but it was recorded much earlier when God spoke to Abraham (Gen 17:8). Jacob was well aware of the fact that the covenant he received from God was the same covenant passed down from his grandfather. It was this same covenant he was passing forward to future generations.
    1. As New Testament Christians, we cannot pass forward our faith. Each generation must individually put his/her faith in Jesus in order to be saved. We can, however, pass on an example of faith. We can model godliness for our children, teach them the Scriptures, and raise them up in the way they should go. They too, can experience the same walk with Jesus that we have, being brought into the same covenant that we have with Him. But it must be presented to them. We can’t expect them to learn it on their own – we’ve got to put forth the effort to teach it to them.

5 And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. 6 Your offspring whom you beget after them shall be yours; they will be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.

  1. Joseph’s sons were made to be full heirs of Israel. This was Joseph’s double-portion inheritance. There is no tract of land within Israel named “Joseph,” but Joseph is still represented in the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Every time we see that in our Bibles, we can be reminded of the double-portion received by Joseph from his father.
  2. Normally, this would have been given to the firstborn, and although Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, he wasn’t the firstborn of Israel; Reuben was. Yet Reuben forfeited that position, and Jacob would have longed to give it to Joseph even if Reuben hadn’t done anything wrong. Culturally, it belonged to Reuben, but by an act of Jacob’s right & will, he gave it to Joseph.
    1. That’s the way grace works. By way of justice, we shouldn’t receive anything at all from the Lord, except punishment and wrath. Instead, by an act of God’s will through the work of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, made a part of God’s family, and graced to share in the inheritance of Jesus Himself. That’s a double-portion indeed!

7 But as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

  1. Why mention Rachel? (1) Rachel was Joseph’s mother, and the true beloved of Jacob’s life. (2) Jacob was looking forward to being reunited with her in death. She may have been buried in a different location than where Jacob would be buried, but he would soon see her again.
  • Ephraim and Manasseh blessed (8-22)

8 Then Israel saw Joseph’s sons, and said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place.” And he said, “Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!”

  1. Had Jacob never met his grandsons? This seems impossible to believe, especially considering that he had lived in Egypt for 17 years by this point. Far more likely, Jacob asked the question due to his age and failing eyesight. (Problems with eyesight and cataracts seem to have been a genetic issue with the family of the patriarchs. Isaac’s eyesight failed as well, which was how Jacob was originally able to trick him to receive the greater blessing.)
  2. Even though Jacob had likely met his grandchildren years earlier, he was still overjoyed at the opportunity to know them. When Joseph had disappeared, Jacob was ready to die. Now he not only knew his son, but his grandsons…all due to the mercy and grace of God. 17 years was not enough time to fully rejoice! (Nothing would be!)
    1. Do we rejoice over God’s blessings? Do we thank Him once, and never think of it again? Be constantly amazed over His grace & His mercy! May we look at Jesus every day, and be overwhelmed at His gift of grace!

12 So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth.

  1. FYI: Some have read this, and assumed that Ephraim and Manasseh were young children at the time of the blessing, hiding behind their father’s legs before receiving their blessing. This seems unlikely. Genesis 41:50 states that the sons were born to Joseph during the years of Egyptian abundance, “before the years of famine came.” If Jacob had been in Egypt for 17 years, and there were two years of famine before he came, that meant the sons were a minimum of 19 years old, and likely in their early-twenties. Thus, the picture here isn’t of young boys hiding behind their father, but of young men kneeling on the ground and positioned behind him in submission, until Joseph brings them forward to receive the blessing.

13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn.

  1. Joseph arranged his sons for the culturally appropriate blessing. Jacob purposefully gave the reverse. The younger would be blessed more than the older. This is a common theme in Genesis: Abel’s sacrifice was better than his older brother Cain’s; Isaac received the covenant instead of his much older brother Ishmael; and although Esau and Jacob were twins, Esau was born first while Jacob received the birthright.
  2. In fact this whole event was nearly mirrored in the earlier generation of Jacob and Esau. Not only was Jacob destined by God to receive the greater blessing, over his older twin-brother, but it was their nearly-blind father who gave it to him. This time, however, the blessing of the younger was intentional; not done as a result of deceit.

15 And he blessed Joseph, and said: “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day, 16 The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

  1. Jacob gives a three-fold naming of God. (Perhaps indicative of Trinity?)
    1. The God of his worship: This is the God of his fathers, the One whom his whole family worshiped. This is the God who made a covenant with his ancestors, and in Whom Jacob was totally invested.
    2. The God of his provision: This is the God who “fed” Jacob every day of his life. When he first left Canaan to go to Padan Aram in search of a wife, he had his walking stick & the clothes on his back. When he returned, he brought a massive family and great wealth. God provided for Jacob every step of the way – exactly as God had promised to do.
    3. The God who was the redeeming Angel of the Lord. This is the God who appeared to Jacob, and wrestled with him until the breaking of day. This is the God who gave Jacob a new name, calling him Israel. Question: How can we be sure this is a reference to God & not just an angel? Because of Hebrew grammar and poetic style. “Angel” in verse 16 is parallel to “Elohim” (God) in verse 15. This Angel is God Himself, made visible to Jacob. Who is this Angel? The Redeemer (Goel, גֹּאֵ֨ל)…Jesus!
      1. We have a Redeemer: the Lord Jesus Christ! Like Jacob, we were once known by our sin, enslaved to it. But Jesus has paid our redemption price & we are free!
    4. Jacob has called upon God as his God in praise – now he prays the blessing over the lads: may they be blessed in that they are brought into the covenant. They will be named by the name of Israel, inheriting the covenant blessing of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
      1. What happens when we are brought into the family of God? We are blessed! (John 1:12)

17 Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’ ” And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

  1. No small irony here: a blessed younger son (Joseph) was displeased by the decision of his father, and tried to stop his younger son from receiving the greater blessing. The name order indicates priority. Of course, both sons were blessed; it’s just that God’s will for the greater blessing was for the younger.
    1. God’s ways are not our ways. (Isa 55:8-9) Praise God that they are not! If God were like us & thought like we think, none of us would be saved, (That being the case, we ought to trust God’s ways more often!)

21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”

  1. Jacob was dying, but the covenant was not. God’s promises would remain true, and Jacob’s descendants (including Joseph’s descendants) would inherit the promised land.
  2. Question: When did Jacob ever fight for any piece of the promised land? There’s no record in Genesis of him raising his own sword and bow against the Amorites. Scholars acknowledge this is unclear, but we perhaps get a hint in the Hebrew word for “portion” (or “shoulder”): “Shechem” (שְׁכֶם). Recall that Shechem was the town against which Simeon and Levi fought, destroying all the males due to the mistreatment of their sister (who was potentially raped – Gen 34). Although Jacob condemned it at the time (and still does, as seen in Chapter 49), the actions of his sons were as if he himself did the act. Earlier, Jacob had purchased a piece of property that was there (Gen 33:19), and the right of conquest assured the rest was his as well. This land was not given to Simeon or Levi, but to Joseph, and Joseph was later buried there after his bones were brought back from Egypt (Josh 24:32).

Genesis 49:1–28 : Jacob blesses Jacob’s sons

1 And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: 2 “Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob, And listen to Israel your father.

  1. Jacob called his sons to receive a prophetic word and blessing. Presumably this happened shortly after Jacob blessed Ephraim & Manasseh, while Joseph was still in Goshen. The text does not say.
  2. Last days” could be translated “after-days” or “future days.” Although there’s some here that applies to what we might consider to be the end-times, that’s not necessarily the focus of Jacob. Much of what he prophesies takes place during the days of the judges, and the years of the kingdom. Some does apply far beyond, particularly regarding Judah, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Even so, it is future, at least from Jacob’s point of view when he spoke these things.
    1. Need we be reminded? God knows the future! Trust Him and His plans! Who better to determine what’s to be done: ourselves, who do nothing but guess – or God, who truly knows all?
  • Sons of Leah (3-15)

3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn, My might and the beginning of my strength, The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall not excel, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it— He went up to my couch.

  1. What Reuben should have been: the might and glory of his father. He should have been the first example of what a son of Israel was.
  2. What Reuben became: a disgrace, and ultimate failure. Reuben had bedded Bilhah, Jacob’s wife (Gen 35:22), and it left a lasting stain on his character and his relationship with his father.
  3. Objection: Reuben’s sin had been decades earlier! Shouldn’t his father have forgiven him? To an extent, it seems apparent that Jacob did forgive him. After all, Reuben wasn’t cast out of the camp, nor executed (which Jacob surely had the right to do in that culture). Even so, Reuben permanently disqualified himself from the place of honor as the firstborn.
    1. Sin has consequences! We have forgiveness in Christ, but there may be earthly consequences that last the rest of our lives.

5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. 6 Let not my soul enter their council; Let not my honor be united to their assembly; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.

  1. Referencing the conquest of Shechem (Gen 34). The brothers were linked together in their sin. They had acted in rage, and unrestrained anger is dangerous! One man had sinned against their sister, and the men of an entire city were slain. Anger can be righteous; theirs was not. They did Jacob far more harm than good, which Jacob references as how “they hamstrung an ox.” 
  2. How were Simeon & Levi “divided” and “scattered”? The tribe of Simeon was surrounded by Judah, locked in by them, and eventually absorbed by them. Levi was literally “scattered” throughout the land as the tribe did not receive a specific piece of land, but individual cities throughout the whole of the land in their service to God.
    1. The use of Levi by the Lord is a wonderful picture of redemption! The wrath of their forefather was unrestrained, but generations later it was focused to be used as the holy instrument of God (Exo 32:25-29). As a result, they were given the blessing of being priests and servants to the Lord. This is grace! 

8 “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s children shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?

  1. Jacob uses a lot of word-play throughout the series of blessings, and the first example is found here. Judah = “praise,” and Jacob declares that Judah would one day be the recipient of his brothers’ praise. In fact, Judah would be victorious over his enemies and have authority over his brothers.
  2. Sound familiar? Just like Joseph did, so Judah would do. The 11 brothers of Joseph bowed to him in Egypt; the future tribes of Israel would bow to the royal descendants of Judah. Judah would be invested with massive power – so much so that he could be described as a lion, treated with utmost respect and fear.
    1. This is Jesus! He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah! (Rev 5:5) We know Him as being meek & mild, but He is far more! Jesus is the ultimate Warrior, having total victory over the devil, death, and sin. He has power unimaginable and unlimited, being none other than God in the flesh. He is to be loved, yes, but He is also to be feared & worshiped!

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.

  1. The future reign of Judah is described in several ways. The “scepter” = symbol of rule. The “lawgiver” = the judge and king. Among the tribes of Israel, there will be no question who it is that reigns. This wasn’t always the case during the kingdom years, but it will be the case during the Millennial Kingdom!
  2. Notice: “Shiloh.” Although this is capitalized in the NKJV, this isn’t necessarily a proper noun as a name (though it might be considered a title). This is a simple transliteration of the Hebrew word. There is a proper noun of this word in the Bible, but be careful not to confuse this “Shiloh” with the town of “Shiloh” where the tabernacle eventually came to rest (1 Sam 1:3). The spellings are different in Hebrew, and this particular spelling of the word (שִׁילֹה) is used only one time in the Bible, right here in Genesis 49:10. Although it’s debated, the most likely meaning of the word is “he whose it is,” or “that which belongs to him” (BDB). Contextually, what is it that might belong to someone? The scepter/right to rule. To whom, then, might this refer? Messiah, Jesus!

11 Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, And his teeth whiter than milk.

  1. The idea of kingly rule and might continues. The Shiloh Messiah comes in on a donkey’s colt, being bound to his people (the vine of Israel). If this isn’t a direct prophecy of what was later fulfilled in Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, it at least has foreshadowing of the event.
  2. Beyond the 1st Coming are shadows of Jesus’ 2nd From the humble donkey-rider to the victorious warrior, Shiloh-Messiah washes His clothes in wine – often a symbol of blood. He is glorious in His appearance, and mighty in His arrival. Perhaps the apostle John had this imagery in mind when he wrote of the angels reaping the grapes of wrath in God’s judgment of the earth (Rev 14), and King Jesus coming in glorious raiment and power at the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 19).
  3. When it comes to the town of Shiloh, the name might indicate a “place of rest,” but when it come to the Person of Shiloh, the name indicates incredible power and rule. We find our rest in Jesus, but the reason we can rest in Him is because He is victorious over every enemy – including death itself!

13 “Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea; He shall become a haven for ships, And his border shall adjoin Sidon.

  1. The blessing upon Zebulun is a bit more difficult to decipher. In their appointment of land, Zebulun was neither on the coast, nor immediately touching the area of Sidon. Was Jacob inaccurate? Not likely. The trade routes that led to the Mediterranean went straight through the region of Zebulun, which could explain a bit of poetic rendering. Some have theorized that at one point Zebulun held some different areas of land, but they weren’t able to hold on to them. 
  2. Keep in mind that we may not have all the information required to properly see the interpretation of this prophecy. To this point (and beyond) Jacob’s words are proven absolutely true. Based on the things we do understand and see, we ought to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt on things we don’t understand nor see.

14 “Issachar is a strong donkey, Lying down between two burdens; 15 He saw that rest was good, And that the land was pleasant; He bowed his shoulder to bear a burden, And became a band of slaves.

  1. As with Zebulun, the words to Issachar are somewhat mysterious, although they seem plausible based on what we know from history. Jacob basically affirms that this tribe would be consisted of hard workers, but those workers would eventually work for someone else. Once in the promised land, they would not maintain their own identity for long. Sure enough, the same could be spoken of many of the northern tribes. Eventually the northern kingdom of Israel is known as Ephraim or Samaria, with the individual tribal designations gone. It’s not that the tribes are lost (God knows exactly where they are!), but they merged into one another.
  • Sons of Bilhah & Zilpah (16-21)

16 “Dan shall judge his people As one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, A viper by the path, That bites the horse’s heels So that its rider shall fall backward.

  1. Jacob returns to word-play. Dan = judge. The other tribes were to be careful of Dan, as they would strike unexpectedly. This might predict the events of Judges 18 when they were one of the first tribes to give themselves largely over to idolatry. 

18 I have waited for your salvation, O LORD!

  1. Jacob takes a break, and interjects a quick prayer. Some of the things he has foreseen for his children are not good, and it’s no wonder he cries out to the Lord!
  2. Jacob is waiting for YHWH’s salvation…He’s waiting for Jesus! The Hebrew prayer is rather short: לִֽישׁוּעָתְךָ֖ קִוִּ֥יתִי יְהוָֽה׃ ; Yeshua (יְשׁוּעָה). Long before Jacob knew the name of the promised Messiah, he called out to Him, for “salvation” is His name!
  3. Jacob’s words to the next three sons are rather short…

19 “Gad, a troop shall tramp upon him, But he shall triumph at last.

  1. Word-play is all over this. “Gad” is derived from the word for “troop,” and the word (or words that sound like it are used 4 times. It’s as if Jacob says, “Regarding Troop, a troop will troop down on him, but he shall troop over them in the end.” No real specifics are given regarding the battle in question, but Jacob knows that although his son will be attacked, he won’t be destroyed. The people shall endure in victory.

20 “Bread from Asher shall be rich, And he shall yield royal dainties.

  1. There’s no word-play here; just a straightforward prophecy that Asher will be well-off economically. Being that they were so close to the rich city of Tyre, it makes sense that they would enjoy some of the wealth of the area.

21 “Naphtali is a deer let loose; He uses beautiful words.

  1. Likewise with Naphtali, there’s nothing specifically prophetic – simply a commendation of the tribe’s future freedom and beauty.
  • Sons of Rachel (22-27)

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall.

  1. As might be expected, Jacob reserves the bulk of his blessing for his favored son Joseph. In a sense, he’s already pronounced a blessing for Joseph when he blessed Joseph’s sons (being that they were the double-portion of what Joseph was to receive, having the appointed right of the firstborn). That thought continues somewhat here. Jacob specifically named Joseph in the blessing, but the wording of “fruitful” points to Ephraim (the younger, but greater-blessed son). “Ephraim” is similar is spelling to the root word for “fruitful,” indicating that perhaps Jacob had Ephraim in mind for the future blessing, but reserved a special blessing for Joseph in the present time.
  2. That Jacob looked to the present is seen in the following…

23 The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. 24 But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),

  1. This did not describe future events, but past ones. By this point Jacob was well-informed of what his other sons did to Joseph when they betrayed him. But he also knew how Joseph was protected by God, and was strengthened by the ultimate Strong (Mighty) One.
  2. Once again, God is described in three ways: (1) The Mighty…of Jacob. (2) The Shepherd (3) The Stone of Israel. Here, there is no question that Jacob worships the one true God, as this is not the God of his father Isaac, but the Might of Jacob himself. And this God is revealed how? In the person of Jesus Christ: the Good Shepherd and our Solid Rock!

25 By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.

  1. God is named one other way in verse 25 – the same way God revealed Himself to Jacob on the two times He personally appeared to him in the past: El Shaddai. It’s beautifully portrayed in the Hebrew, as the title is actually divided, but the terms “God” and “Almighty” (25a, 25b) are put in parallel with one another. The Mighty God of Jacob, the Shepherd, and the Stone are all the same: He is El Shaddai, God Almighty – the all-powerful unlimited One!
  2. By this God, what is Jacob’s prayer for Joseph? That Joseph would be blessed. Six times in two verses, the word “blessing” is used somehow, with the idea that Joseph is to be blessed by God with everything from everywhere. God would glorify Joseph in every way imaginable (which He had already done in raising him to the 2nd throne in Egypt).
    1. More than Joseph, this would seem to paint a picture of Jesus, Who will one day be blessed and praised by everything that is in existence! (Phil 2)

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he shall devour the prey, And at night he shall divide the spoil.”

  1. If Judah was like a lion, Benjamin would be like a wolf. The tribe of Benjamin would also rule for a time (via Saul), although leadership would not remain with him. Even so, the rest of the tribes ought to be careful of him. Benjamin would prove to be dangerous.
    1. Perhaps looks forward to the terrible events of Judges 19-20 when a horrendous crime in Benjamin brought the nation to civil war.
  • Conclusion (28)

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them. And he blessed them; he blessed each one according to his own blessing.

  1. All of them received a blessing, but some received more, “each one according to his blessing.” There is no question that Joseph receives the double-portion of the firstborn, but note that he does not receive the Messianic promise. For the first time, these aspects of the Abrahamic covenant are divided. All of the sons are promised the land, with Joseph receiving one-sixth of it as well as the overwhelming love of his father. However, the Messianic promise is given only to one son: Judah. In the long-term, there would be conflict between Joseph (Ephraim) and Judah, as seen in the battles between the northern and southern kingdoms. In the end, the southern kingdom (Judah) prevails – something acknowledged by Jacob even while he reserved his best words for his favorite sons. From within Judah alone would emerge the Shiloh-Messiah, and no personal favoritism from an earthly father would undo it.

Conclusion:

Some of the blessings pronounced by Jacob may not sound like “blessings,” but there’s no question that they were words given by the Lord. (And any word received from God is a blessing in itself!) God knew what the future held for each one of the sons of Jacob (grandsons, too), and despite what the plans of men might have been, it would be the plans of God that prevail.

Praise God that they did! If Joseph had his way, Manasseh would have been the larger of his two tribes, and who knows what would have been the result in the Promised Land? Half of the tribe of Manasseh didn’t even want to cross over the Jordan River to possess the land…it doesn’t exactly invoke confidence in their ability to lead! If Jacob had his way, no doubt Joseph would have received not only the double-portion of the land, but also the Messianic promise, and we would have no David, no Solomon, and the life and ministry of Jesus would have been vastly different (if known at all). It was only the plan of God that brings about Jesus as we know Him, the Shiloh to whom all power belongs, and the Redeemer of our souls.

If God had such a specific plan in mind for the tribes of Israel, think of what plans He has in mind for you, for your family, for your grandchildren & beyond (should the Lord tarry). Think of what He has in mind for His church. Too often, we try imposing our will upon God and asking Him to bless it; what we ought to do is look to the Lord for His will and walk in the blessing He already promised.

As we do, we’ll walk with Jesus. How could we not? When we walk in the will of God, we’ll be walking hand-in-hand with our Savior, because we will be right where He wants us to be. And that’s the very best place of all to be!