Drying Brooks and the Ways of God (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:2-7

“You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there” (17:4 CSB).

Our text (17:2-7) is easily studied by a four part outline, which also shows us a valuable sequence in the life of faith. Here we find God’s command, God’s promise, our response, and a test. In the previous article, we looked at God’s command. Now, let’s examine the other three.

God gave Elijah a promise (17:4). What can we learn about our God who makes such promises? First, let’s focus on his sovereignty. The living God has power and authority to command the birds, and other creatures. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Ps 135:6 ESV; cf. Jonah 2:10). He also directed Elijah to the place he was to hide. Elijah was to go to the wadi (or brook) Kerith, and there he would be fed. Then, consider the manner in which Elijah was fed. The Lord used “The Raven Catering Company.” He fed Elijah by ravens, not by people or angels, although God used both means to feed Elijah later. All creatures, high and low, are at God’s command. In using ravens, God restrained their natural tendency to seek food for themselves and instead to feed a prophet. He put Elijah’s location into their “GPS”.

Wonder at the Lord’s wisdom. If people or dogs had brought the food to Elijah, perhaps his hiding place would have been discovered. But who cares where birds are flying? God taught Elijah humble dependence. Ravens, unclean birds under the law covenant, brought him his food little by little.

Second is our response. So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook (17:5-6 NIV). Elijah acted according to God’s word. He found God’s will for his life in God’s word of promise. And he did it. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22 NIV). God is not impressed by how much we know; he is concerned with how well we obey. If Elijah believed that God will provide for him at Kerith, then he would quickly go to Kerith. The same is true today for you and me. True faith produces obedience to God’s commands.

God was true to his word. He provided his prophet’s daily necessities: bread and meat. I agree that it’s nice to have filet mignon, but it’s not necessary. The Lord did not give it all at once, but little by little as Elijah needed it. Twice daily he was taught God’s faithfulness.

Third, the test came. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land (17:7 NLT).      The brook dried up. Why? This was the answer to Elijah’s prayer! Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land (James 5:17 CSB). Be careful what you pray for; God might give it to you! If you pray, make me like Christ, consider what that means (cf. Hebrews 5:8). Or we might pray, give me patience! Then we could find ourselves in the hope sequence (Romans 5:3-5). Are we ready for the changes that God’s answers to our prayers might make in our lives? All this tested Elijah’s trust. Was his trust in God or in God’s gifts? Had the Lord suddenly lost control of the situation?

Do you have a drying brook today? Perhaps it is the drying brook of fading popularity, of failing health, of diminishing business, of decreasing friendships, or of a feuding family. Has your hope been in such a brook that is now drying up, or is it in the living God? Let each one of us exercise a vigorous faith in the living God! And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

He Came Under the Law

Luke 2:21-24

God reveals himself and his redemptive purposes in his word. He does this for his glory and our joy! His message concerns his dearly loved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is formed according to what God did, does, and will do through him. It declares from its earliest pages “he will come,” and then “he has come” and “he will come again”. Various themes assist in the telling of this message, such as the kingdom, the seed, and the covenants. In our text we ought to see how the Christ or Anointed One came. He came under the law, meaning the old or law covenant, made by God with his people Israel. Listen to Paul’s statement. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV).

Why do you and I need to know this? We can begin by saying we must understand how God tells the story of his glory to us. It helps us as we read parts of the Scriptures like this text, because we can wonder, “Why does the Spirit of God use four verses of the Bible on this stuff?” I think I can safely say that no one ever was told to memorize these verses in Sunday School, Bible study, or a discipleship program. It provides part of the background for understanding what Christ did for us and the newness of life we are called to walk in. It also provides a rare glimpse into the infancy of the Redeemer. Let’s observe a few things of his earliest days.

His parents walked obediently according to the old covenant. He was circumcised and presented to the Lord as the law required. They presented an offering required by the law. Remember that the covenant given at Sinai functioned as the people brought offerings to the priests at the tabernacle or temple. This was their worship. Since the new covenant has one finished sacrifice offered by Jesus the great high priest, our worship is in him. We come to God through Christ, but Mary, Joseph and Jesus approached the living God through sacrifices like this. So then, they were obedient worshipers, just as we should be.

They, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, kept the word of the Lord that came to them through the angel Gabriel. They named their son Jesus (Luke 1:31). This shows their faith that God had indeed spoken to them. We have received the New Testament Scriptures through the apostles and prophets of the Lord. When we read the Bible, we read what the Lord has said. We are to keep what the Spirit has caused to be written for us with the same spirit of faith. In other words, when we pick up God’s book, let us reverence God for what he says to us, and let us respond with faith.

Jesus was born to poor parents. We learn this from the offering that Mary brought for her cleansing after the birth of a son. But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean (Leviticus 12:8 NIV). The earthly parents of the Messiah could not afford a lamb. So, the Lamb of God was presented to God Most High with a pair of doves or pigeons! It was all they could give, but they gave what pleased the Lord. In the same way, God only expects us to give according to the manner that God has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2). God does not burden us beyond our abilities. In fact, he sent his Son from heaven’s riches to earthly poverty to make us rich in him. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV). Rejoice in the God who gives generously to make us forever rich!

Grace and peace, David

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luke 1:26-38

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus (Luke 1:31 NLT).

God enjoys working through his creatures to accomplish his purposes. In doing this, he makes us part of the story of his glory. In this section, we see two of his creatures. The first mentioned is Gabriel, one of the holy angels or messengers. God sent him with a special announcement to the second, Mary, who was a descendant of King David. A thousand years had passed since God made a promise to David. The time had arrived to fulfill that promise. God waits long years, because he desires the salvation of many people.

Gabriel came with a joyful greeting to Mary (1:28). Mary was highly favored, which Gabriel would shortly explain. He assured her that the Lord was with her. Mary knew the Scriptures, and this phrase would not only tell her of God’s presence, but also that good things were about to happen (cf. Genesis 39:2; Joshua 1:5; Judges 6:12). What was about to happen? How did Mary respond to the Lord’s message to her?

God gave Mary clear information, so that she could trust him concerning what he would do in her life.

  • Gabriel told her not to fear. Instead, she was in a special position before God. Peace is the great word that describes our relationship to God (Romans 5:1). Mary needed assurance that God was pleased with her.
  • She learned her mission: to give birth to the Son of the Most High God (1:31-32). This set Mary thinking, because she would enter something unique in human history. A woman would bear God’s Son. The promised Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would come through her. (By the way, the “seed” concept is an important theme in the Scriptures.)
  • She learned something of her son’s mission. His name, Jesus, spoke of what he would do (save). And she was told that he would rule on David’s throne forever. Luke will show how this part of the message was fulfilled in Acts 2:29-36.
  • Gabriel told her that all this would happen by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary would become pregnant by the power of God, not by normal human means. Again, Luke teaches that history had entered a new age, the age of the Spirit of God. Great changes were on the way.
  • Notice the happy word that Gabriel concluded with: For nothing is impossible with God (NIV).

Mary had to respond as the message was “unfolded” to her. With each part, she had to act with faith in God, who spoke to her through Gabriel.

  • She was troubled about the sudden appearance of an angelic visitor. Angels did not usually reveal their presence to people in Biblical times, though it might seem that way to us. Hundreds of years might pass before anyone saw an angel. She also was concerned about the greeting. Was she the first woman to hear that the Lord was with her?
  • Mary wondered how she could conceive. She was a virgin and a godly woman. She was engaged, but not yet married. She was sexually moral. Was this promise come true after she was married? Unlike Zechariah, she did not doubt, though they used similar words. She simply didn’t understand how a virgin could have a child. Mary needed information. Observe that we need to discern why people ask questions. Some may be doubters, but others merely need to know.
  • When Mary had heard an explanation, she responded with humble faith. She gladly accepted what the Lord had for her to do to serve him.

The Lord called Mary to do something unique in human history. She was a humble, believing believer. May we imitate her kind of faith!

Grace and peace, David

The Case of the Unbelieving Believer

Luke 1:18-25

The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19 CSB).

Unlike many people, I have never been into watching crime and detective shows. The exception would be Dragnet, which I always watched with my dad, including reruns. But I digress. We all know that detectives attempt to solve cases that involve murders or other crimes. Counselors also consult case stories with others to help them learn how to help others. In Zechariah, we have a case of a believer who failed to believe.

Let us understand clearly that Zechariah was a believer. How do we know this? The Holy Spirit had already guided Luke to write that Zechariah and his wife were upright in the sight of God (Luke 1:6 NIV). The only way anyone can be right with God is by grace through faith (Romans 3-4). His faith showed itself in his works, in his zeal to obey God. The Spirit wants us to know that Zechariah was a good man.

Zechariah had heard a message of good news for himself and his people through the angel. His prayer for a son would be answered. His heart ought to have been rejoicing! But… he began to doubt. He looked at his and his wife’s physical capabilities and knew that in the normal course of life, childbirth was impossible for them. This is where you and I often get trapped. How many times have I seen a church count noses and pocketbooks and assume that a challenge to move forward for the Lord was simply “impossible”. This corporate experience is simply the overflow of the hearts of the members of the church, who have for long years assumed that it was simply “impossible” for them to see their friends and neighbors become followers of Christ. And so, they choose easy ways “to serve the Lord”, like being greeters or working in the nursery or buying cookies for Vacation Bible School or serving on church boards and committees. Faith in God is simply “impossible”, because they live by sight, rather than by faith. I can’t listen to Zechariah explain his failure to believe God two thousand years later, but I’m rather certain where our failures lie.

Gabriel, God’s chosen messenger, did not shrug off Zechariah’s unbelief, like you and I regularly do. Contemporary Christians have a very short list of sins, and our unbelief and the unbelief of our family and friends isn’t on the list. In fact, if anyone raises the issue of our unbelief, we become huffy and “hurt” by the mere suggestion. All right, I’ll risk “offending” you. What matters of unbelief in God and his provision are you struggling with? Could you be a case of another unbelieving believer? Back to Gabriel, he had a “tough love” response to Zechariah’s unbelief. He removes his ability to speak until his son is born. Boom! And let him know that Gabriel’s message will certainly happen. Boom!

Since Zechariah could no longer speak, Luke returns to the waiting worshipers. They wondered about his delay in performing the ritual, and on his return to the temple courts, they realized that he could not speak. He had some kind of vision in the temple, but they didn’t know what had happened.

When Zechariah finished his temple service, he went home. Then he acted in faith and made love to his wife, and… she became pregnant, though he had previously thought it “impossible”. Here is the good news. The unbelieving believer can return to believing when he or she trusts God and his promises in the Good News. God works through the good news of the gospel to save (Romans 1:16-17) and to change (Titus 2:11-14) his people. You and I can by grace turn back to a believing condition. As for Elizabeth, she believed, since she traced back her pregnancy, not to natural circumstances, but to the power of God. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (1:25 NIV). Thank God that the gospel is always good news for his people. So then, let’s trust God to do what he sets before us!

Grace and peace, David

Had God Abandoned Them?

Luke 1:5-10

But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years (Luke 1:7 ESV).

Life does not usually conform to our expectations. We usually assume this is a bad happening, though occasionally we might say, “I’m glad that events went differently from what I wanted, because if they had, I’d be in bigger problems.” However, our typical pattern is to feel disappointed (or frustrated or hurt or bitter or envious or angry – you pick where you are on this spectrum). Let’s face it. We want God to give us what we want, when we want it, because we’re sure that we know what is best for us. In an affluent society, we can’t imagine anything but the full, immediate satisfaction of our desires to be God’s agenda for us.

We must beware of psychologizing our text. The Holy Spirit through Luke does not disclose the feelings of Zechariah and Elizabeth to us. He simply states the life situation they were in before God stepped into their lives with his kingdom agenda. You see, God has his plans for us, and he does not ask us to approve his plans before he puts them in motion.

Luke, as the careful student of history, tells us the historical setting of the beginning of the gospel events. They began in the time of King Herod, who ruled from 37-4 BC. Near the end of his reign, God acted in the lives of two of his people. Zechariah was a priest, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. (A thousand years before, David had divided the priests into twenty-four divisions.) Notice what the Holy Spirit lets us know about Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord (Luke 1:6 CSB). They served the Lord, yet they were denied the blessing of children up to this point in their lives. They were nearly fifty (the age when priests retired from temple ministry), and though they had prayed for a child (Luke 1:13), God had not blessed them in that way… yet. God can answer our prayers “yes”, “no”, or “wait”, and they received the third trying answer. One of the lessons of their trial of faith involved waiting until God’s time arrived. This made it seem like God had abandoned them. I suppose God could have given them other children before John, but the Lord often calls his children to wait while he waits for his time. This is a “sharing of waiting” with God. It develops our faith in him.

Then one day, Zechariah’s number came up in the lottery (1:9). He was selected to go into the temple to offer incense, as required by the law covenant. Those who have studied this subject say that this was probably the only time in his life that Zechariah had this privilege. He had to wait to do what priests do for many years. But God had not abandoned him. God has many servants that he tells to wait for years before their hour comes. God wants us to live with him in his presence, serving him faithfully, while we think we are only waiting to serve. Don’t miss the small actions of your life, in which you serve the Lord, because you or your family or your friends or others don’t think they are significant. God had a special reason to delay Zechariah’s service in the temple. God only knows the reasons for apparent delays and seeming abandonments in your life. Keep on walking by faith!

Had God abandoned his dearly loved children Zechariah and Elizabeth? No, in fact, he was about to do much more than they could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). God had formed their lives for a significant purpose: to be the parents of the forerunner of Jesus their Messiah. Joy was about to enter their lives!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Nine)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

As we consider the subject of secret sins, we come to a fourth point. The person who knows the Lord has confidence in the grace and compassion of the Lord. This is the confidence in God that is part of the essence of faith. Here we see a believer that has sinned freely confessing hidden sins to his or her God. But why does the believer confess them? We do because we know that God is ready to receive us, to help us in our weaknesses, to blot out even the stain unseen. Make no mistake, people set apart for God take their sins seriously, because God is very serious in our lives. (In other words, we fear God.) But we also have a large view of the magnitude of redeeming love, and so we ask for forgiveness! However, there is more to our war against remaining sin.

Keep your servant also from willful sins…. The law covenant recognized two categories of sins: unintentional and defiant (Numbers 15:27-31). The law covenant made provision for a sacrificial covering for those who sinned unintentionally. However, there was no sacrifice provided for those who sinned defiantly or willfully. The law had only one word for any such sinner: death. Since David lived under the law covenant, he was concerned not to bring the force of God’s law upon his head. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:56: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (ESV). So, David prayed that God would keep him from such sins. It is good and wise that we pray for God’s help in spiritual warfare. In the new covenant, we have the Holy Spirit as our Helper against sin (cf. Galatians 5:16-26).

David continued with the plea may they not rule over me. Again, we must remember that David is praying as an old covenant believer. In many areas, our spiritual experience is similar to those who lived under the law. But in others, we must never underestimate the difference that Christ established in his new and better covenant. We must understand this phrase used by David carefully, because what David prayed for under the law, we now possess in the new covenant. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). “What he [David] there [Psalm 19:13] so earnestly prays for, the apostle in the words of the text [Rm 6:14] promiseth unto all believers, by virtue of the grace of Christ Jesus administered in the gospel [the new covenant].” [Owen, Works, Vol. 7, p. 506.] Having said this, we must carefully consider the following facts:

  • Sin still continues in new covenant believers (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11). Sin still continues to incite us to rebellion against God and to break his commands. In this way sin has lost none of its character as sin, whether one has been a Christian five minutes or fifty years. Sin is still deceptive and persistent.
  • Yet sin is a weakened force in believers. Though it is still sin, it is unable to rise to dominate the inner person of the heart of the believer. There is a new master in the heart, the reigning grace of Jesus Christ the Lord (Romans 5:21; 6:15-22).
  • Though sin is weakened in believers, it still strives for domination. We are still in a war against sin. Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). And since we are in a war, we need to make use of every kind of privilege and spiritual armor that God has given us to fight sin (Ephesians 6:10-18).

“This is one principal difference between the law [the old covenant] and the gospel [the new covenant], and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, ‘What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?’ Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: ‘The strength of sin is the law.’ But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them” (Owen, Works, Vol. 7, pp. 546-547, my emphasis).

Grace and peace, David

By Faith Joseph (Part Two)

Genesis 50:22-26

In our previous post, we saw how Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage with joy. We conclude this series on his life with this: By faith Joseph spoke about the future. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22 NASV).

For their immediate future, he encouraged them to rely on the Lord. He comforted them with the same comfort that he had received from his father (48:21). This is a pattern for our lives. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV). They who believe God’s promises are desirous of persuading others to believe also. That which had sustained him for over ninety years, he now leaves as a heritage of faith to his family.

Joseph had been the means of God’s support and protection for the family. Now that the means was passing away, what would become of the family? He directed them to the actual source of their security: The God who had made covenant promises to his people (50:24). “God’s gracious visits will serve to make up the loss of our best friends. They die; but we may live, and live comfortably, if we have the favor and presence of God with us” (Henry).

For the more distant future, he encouraged them to hope in God. God’s people must journey through this world with their hope (confident expectation) on what God has promised. We don’t look for satisfaction in this present world but in the world to come. Joseph’s family, which would become God’s covenant nation at Sinai, was not to look for satisfaction in Egypt. God had a better place for them, a place where they could flourish as his people. But they would not reach that land for many years. Until then, by faith Joseph spoke two messages of hope.

First, Joseph told them that God would come to their aid. Their way would eventually turn out to be bitter slavery. The people themselves would even turn to idols (Joshua 24:14). But God’s grace is greater than his people’s sins and sorrows. Hear the word of the Lord, “But God will surely come to your aid.”

Second, Joseph prophesied that God will surely take them to the land of promise. Egypt was not to be their home, and as a testimony to them, Joseph ordered that they take his bones out with them in the Exodus. Famous men often want to build monuments to their own honor in this world. Joseph was of a different spirit. Let Egypt do as it wished for the present; he had his sights set on a better country.

God’s people in all ages must keep their eyes on God’s promised rest for them. Let us remember where our home is. We are only strangers and pilgrims here. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11:13 NIV). We are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

Let’s focus on some lessons we can learn from Joseph’s life.

  • What made Joseph tick? He had surely seen God do great things for him and through him! But was his experience his consolation in the end? No, it was the word of God. His hope was in what God had “promised on oath” (50:24). Two unchangeable things sustained him at the end, God’s promise and oath (cf. Hebrews 6:18). We will do well to pay attention to the word of the prophets made more certain, for it is the word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).
  • Let us not be weary of repetition. Joseph repeated that God would surely come to their aid. Weak minds continually lust after new, exotic, spicy spiritual and intellectual dishes. Strong minds are content to feed on meat and potatoes. Make God’s word your delight and rely on it; beware the opinions of people.
  • Joseph endured thirteen years of suffering, but he also enjoyed eighty years of honor. Let us not lose heart concerning any present suffering for Christ. He can abundantly reward us. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).
  • A godly man may die in the Egypts of this world. That matters not. All the godly will share perfection together someday (Hebrews 11:40). O that it was today!

Grace and peace, David

By Faith Joseph (Part One)

Genesis 50:22-26

We come now to our final posts about the life of Joseph. He could say that God intended his sufferings for good. Our own souls can benefit as we meditate on what God did for him, leading him through the lowest depths to the highest honors. Trials may come to the child of God, but the Lord is with him through the trials.

While it is God’s purpose always to work for the ultimate good of his people (Romans 8:28), it is our responsibility to trust him as he works toward that end. Suppose you have car with engine problems, and you take it to a good mechanic for repairs. How does he fix the car? By taking the engine apart. You must rely on his wisdom and good intentions.

By faith Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage. God blessed him with a long life. In the old covenant, the first command with a promise (Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:3) promised a long life. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation (Psalm 91:16 ESV). My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity (Proverbs 3:2 NIV). We must read verses within, not only their context, but also the context of the progress of redemptive history. Prior to the old covenant, we find that several of the godly (no record of the ages of the ungodly) attained very great years: Abraham, 175; Isaac, 180; Jacob, 147; and Job, 140+. Yet though they were loved by the Lord, sin’s partner, death, at last laid hold of them. We should daily thank the Lord for the gift of life and all that is necessary to sustain it and make it enjoyable. Now is the time to remember him. Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 NIV).

God blessed Joseph with a growing family. The text can be interpreted as either grandchildren or great-grandchildren. In either case, he could bless God as he saw the promise to Abraham begin to be fulfilled. Genesis 12:2. The enjoyment of grandchildren is a blessing from God. May the Lord bless you from Zion, so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life and will see your children’s children! Peace be with Israel (Psalm 128:6 CSB; cf. Job 42:16). I was joking with another grandfather yesterday that grandchildren are new and improved versions of children. We laughed, but I think that perception lies more within the grandfathers than the grandchildren, since we can love them and hand them back to our children after we have “spoiled” the grandchildren with kindness.

Note well that Joseph could rejoice in the mercies of God to him. He did not embitter his own life by obsessing on the suffering that he had had to endure because of his brothers’ cruelty. Since he knew that God had intended everything for the good of his family, he accepted his place in the plan of the Sovereign God. This required faith. God’s people must always live by faith.

Grace and peace, David

Blessing and Encouragement (Part One)

Genesis 48:8-22

It is remarkable that at the end of his life, Jacob became a prophet. He still had important work to do for the Lord. The latter days of God’s servants can be their best. Moses served the Lord constantly in the last third of his life. Don’t moan your way to glory. Trust God for grace and strength to glorify and to serve him until your last day.

In our text, we first see some common matters of life. When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?” “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.” (Genesis 48:8-11 NIV).

Jacob was blind because of his age. It is a weakness of our fallen race (Ecclesiastes 12:3). Everyone who lives by sight rather than by faith will eventually lose their guide. Old age has burdens along with its blessings. You can’t have one without the other. But you can rejoice in what the Lord does in your weakness (cf. Romans 8:26; 2 Corinthians 4:16-17). The eye of faith may be clear when the eye of the flesh is very cloudy. You can see the kingdom of God when you can’t see the kingdoms of this world. By faith like Abraham, look for the city that has foundations (Hebrews 11:10). This we ought to do, rather than groan about the weakness of our failing bodies.

Jacob was affectionate toward his grandsons. He thought he would never see Joseph again, but he had the joy of seeing Joseph’s sons. Older people often have a special affection for their grandchildren, perhaps even more than they had toward their children. Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers (Proverbs 17:6 ESV). In his providence, God often blesses his people beyond what they might expect. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 CSB). “God is much better to us than our fears; yea, far better than our hopes” (Spurgeon).

Jacob and Joseph acknowledged God’s providence in their lives. Joseph praised God for the children he gave him. Jacob rejoiced that he could see Joseph and his sons after years of thinking Joseph was dead and sons had never been born to him. Every good thing we enjoy is sweetened when we see that all comes from the hand of a loving Father. Here is the way for the godly to talk. Neither father nor son praised the false goddess Luck, but the true GOD. For what five blessings are you thankful to God right now?

Grace and peace, David

An Important Personal Event (Part Two)

Genesis 48:1-7

In our last article, we saw that Joseph had taken his two sons to visit his dying father, Jacob. Everyone needs to honor the older members of their family, even when the visits might prove to be difficult. In our text, the visit became a little testy, because Joseph did not perceive what his father was doing. But Jacob was privy to God’s plan for Israel’s future. God told Jacob to do something that would affect the course of the tribes hundreds of years later. Jacob’s action is an example of God’s sovereign choice, an instance of gracious action (48:3-7).

Jacob recounted God’s goodness to him. He gave an account of God’s historical appearance to him. In a day without the written word, this would be very important to the next generation (cf. 35:9-13). We ought to give thanks for our Bibles, through which we have eyewitness accounts to the story of God’s glory. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19 NIV).

Jacob also reminded them of God’s covenant blessing and promise. This was Jacob’s greatest treasure, and he shared it with his dear grandchildren. Those saved by grace should always speak highly of God’s grace. “In all our prayers, both for ourselves and for our children, we ought to have a particular eye to, and remembrance of, God’s promises to us” (Henry, Commentary). Let there be no doubt, Jacob was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:21). If Ephraim and Manasseh were worldly-minded, what would they have seen? Only a dying old man, who had been living off their father’s generosity for seventeen years. What could such a man give to them? To the spiritually-minded, however, the sight is vastly different. One of God’s chosen people, an heir of God, was speaking with them. Faith sees what human wisdom cannot.

Jacob received his grandsons as his own children. Though born in Egypt and not his own, Jacob called them his own sons. This is a picture of our adoption as sons (Galatians 4:3-5). Jacob pointed the two young men to the place where blessing truly is to be found. It was better for them to embrace God’s people in their affliction than Egypt in its wealth. This is a lesson rarely learned in our day (1 Timothy 6:9-10; Hebrews 11:26).

In this way, Joseph came to receive the birthright, for he received a double blessing (cf. 1 Chronicles 5:1-2).

Jacob added a wise proviso in the event Joseph had other sons. Wisdom on the part of parents can prevent much grief in a family after their departure. What struggles, by those who call themselves Christians, have been carried out for a small earthly inheritance!

Jacob spoke of his long-departed wife, Rachel. It was very natural that Jacob would think of her that he deeply loved such a time. Ephraim and Manasseh were her grandchildren, too! “Strong affections in the enjoyment cause long afflictions in the loss” (Henry). In the end Rachel was vindicated, for she was the wife Jacob chose, and though barren for a while, her firstborn received the pre-eminence. In summary, this section shows a man of faith with his eye on the promised land to the end. We will do well to imitate his faith (Hebrews 11:13-16). Let us keep Christ and our eternal inheritance fully and firmly in view.

Grace and peace, David