The Attributes of God (Part Nineteen)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24 ESV).

God is patient. “Far less has been written upon this than the other excellencies of the Divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the Divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the Divine perfections as His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto” (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 70).

What is God’s patience, or as we could also call this attribute, his longsuffering or forbearance? Stephen Charnock answered this way. “It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: ‘the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger’ (Psalm 145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more” (Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, pp. 478-479). With this in mind, we should understand that God’s patience involves a sort of meeting point of God’s holiness and his love. A number of times God reveals himself as slow to anger (Nahum 1:3), and often this characteristic is linked with his compassion, love and grace (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8).

God’s patience is very great; for example, the apostle speaks of the riches of his patience (Romans 2:4). As the psalmist teaches, God is patient with his people continually, as the Holy One interacts with sinful people (Psalm 78:32-39). Patience shows God’s self-control in the face of provocation that is not only high-handed in the case of the wicked, but which comes from less than totally committed people who speak of our love for him. In human relationships we know the pain that comes when one party is less than faithful. Though we cannot frustrate the God, as we would be frustrated, because God is self-satisfied; nevertheless that does not excuse our lack of faithful love and trying God’s patience (Isaiah 7:13).

The patience of God is an integral part of God’s plan. Having decided to make known to his chosen people the riches of his mercy, it was necessary for the Lord to act with patience toward those he passed by (Romans 9:22-24), in order that he could call us out from that people. Clearly, if God had judged our pagan ancestors immediately, they would not have existed to be part of the line of human reproduction leading to us. For this reason, God acted with patience in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20), and afterward, letting the nations go their own way, while still providing for them (Acts 14:16-17; 17:30). God was patient with Israel after the Exodus, enduring their conduct in the wilderness (Jeremiah 11:7; Acts 13:18), in order that Christ might eventually come from Israel (Romans 9:5). And even more directly, God’s patience is directly active in preserving our lives prior to our regeneration and conversion, in order that we might come to salvation (2 Peter 3:9, 15). God’s patience is also evident in his forbearing to punish those who lived before Christ’s sacrifice. He forgave them and justified them through what Christ would do on the cross, and so in his forbearance he left their sins unpunished until Calvary (Romans 3:25-26).

When God is patient, it is an omniscient patience. He sees our sin and abhors it, yet he wills to look on us with pity. God’s patience does not come from his weakness, but from his strength. He has the ability to judge at any time, but chooses to restrain his anger to make known his grace.

God expects us to imitate his patience by being patient and forbearing (Colossians 3:12-13) in our interaction with other people. And we are to be patient in the face of suffering (James 5:7-11). We require patience to finish the course God has marked out for us (2 Timothy 4:7). In fact, patience is a key quality of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Grace and peace, David

How and What We Tell Others (Part One)

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by an open display of the truth (CSB).

I write this post on the five hundredth anniversary of a great work of God in salvation that began about 1517 and spread across Europe and eventually to its pioneer villages in North America. It is called the Reformation, and it should remind us that God can do unexpected and remarkable things through people and events that seem most unlikely.

My concern in this post is not to talk about that time, but about God’s message in our time, the twenty-first century. The same God still works through the same good news that changed all history in the first century and the sixteenth century. All around the world in our century, the Lord is saving people. In this text, we hear one of Christ’s first spokesmen, a man called Paul, talk about what and how new covenant ministers preach and what God is able to do through that message. Let’s think about what is written for our benefit.

The glory of a gospel or new covenant ministry prompts perseverance and openness (4:1-2). Those who tell others the good news of Jesus Christ must face temptations to disabling discouragement. If anyone had an opportunity to give up, it was Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-29). However, Paul did not give in to discouragement. He explains this to his readers. The word “lose heart” can be translated “not despair”. It carries the idea of behaving badly by getting into such a condition. Despair is the spirit of our age, and people try desperately to escape it by pleasure of some sort. But gradually there is no pleasure that can overcome the damp, freezing chill of hopelessness. The Christian is to have no part with this attitude.

Believers in Christ have sufficient resources to overcome this temptation. The apostle mentions two: the character of new covenant ministry, which is surpassing, enduring, and transforming glory, and the mercy of God. You see, if we would not give up, we must remember what God is doing. He has placed us in a ministry that leads to glory. God’s eternal mercy is for us (cf. Psalm 23:6). Whatever happens, we must view our situation through gospel eyes. “Everything is going to be all right” when we are in forever-glory with the Lord Christ.

Those who tell others the good news must serve according to gospel principles. This influences our mode of ministry in three ways.

  • We renounce secret and shameful ways. The gospel has no room for ways that are underhanded and disgraceful, because the gospel’s very character is openness.
  • We do not use deception nor distort God’s word. Our walk (“use”) or way of life is not unscrupulous, cunning, or sly. We do not stoop to anything to accomplish our goals. Nor do we distort God’s Word. The great cry of our age is “tell people what they want to hear.” Christ’s faithful people will not do that. As unpleasant as it may be for speaker or listener, we must tell people what the Lord has said.
  • We set forth the truth to every conscience. The conscience refers to that faculty of the inner person that recognizes right and wrong moral norms and either accuses or excuses the person because of that norm. Certainly, a person can have wrong moral norms; such as supposing that it is all right to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage or assuming that “the one with the most toys wins”. But that is precisely the reason Paul aimed the truth at the conscience. It takes the truth that is in Jesus to produce godly norms in a human conscience.

The point is that the Reformation, like other awakenings and revival, points to the transformation of all, including those who tell others the good news of salvation by grace. We can thank God that the Reformers told people the true way to be right with God. Sadly, sometimes they did not tell the truth in a loving manner. Let us learn from them and tell the truth, but may we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Heaven (Part Four)

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:17 NIV).

How will we live in heaven?

What will life be like? We will live in love, fulfilling a great purpose of God in our salvation. Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God (Ephesians 5:1-2 CSB). When all things pertaining to the present state of the church pass away, love will continue. Love will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8); cf. Edwards, Heaven, a World of Love. Let’s think of two aspects of the love that will be shared by God’s people forever.

The great cause or source of love in heaven is the presence of God himself, who is love (1 John 4:8, 16). God will reveal the majestic greatness of his love in heaven (Revelation 7:17; 21:4). Having determined to live eternally with his chosen people, God will make known to us the riches of his love and grace (Ephesians 2:7; cf. 3:18). Since God is all-sufficient and infinite, it follows that he will be eternally the overflowing and inexhaustible fountain of love.

  • We will be with the Father, who is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). We will see the fullness of the love of the One who loved the world so much that he gave his Son for it.
  • We will live with the Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain and resurrected, the Prince of peace, who so loved us that he gave himself for us (Ephesians 5:25). The great Mediator will see the results of his atoning work and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:10-11).
  • We will be with the Holy Spirit, who has poured out God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5) and whose great task is to produce love in us (Galatians 5:22).

The people who are the objects of God’s immutable, unending, inexhaustible love have three characteristics.

  • They are completely lovely, because no one who is unlovely has any admittance into the Holy City (Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:15). No one will have any moral deformity, but all will be beautiful to look at and wonder at the power of God’s grace in Christ. The church will be a radiant church, without any blemish, but it will be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). False professors or hypocrites will not mar that company. No one will have a hateful, malicious spirit, or will have any motive to dislike anyone. Everyone will draw forth love from each other.
  • They are perfectly lovely. Too often now there is in the best of believers some defect of character or attitude or conduct that damages what is otherwise quite attractive. But there will be nothing sinful or foolish or weak in that city. No words will disturb the perfect harmony of love that will reign there.
  • They will be able to set their hearts upon what they have always desired and delighted in without hindrance. Many great realities of the faith have captivated their minds on earth, and they were willing to suffer the greatest loss for what they held in prospect. Yet what we desire to know now, too often the presence of sin, suffering, death, or the simple weakness of the flesh keeps from our full apprehension.

This week, meditate on the coming glorious love that followers of Christ will share forever. Since we’re headed for this destiny, walk in love together on this earth.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Fourteen)

The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8 CSB).

God has revealed his glory as God in all his attributes. The living God wants us to know the whole truth about who he is, and not merely a part of the truth. When we think of the truth that God is love, we ought to realize that many people tend to misuse this one truth to construct a false idea of the true God. When done in ignorance, this causes people to fail to give God the honor that is due him for all that he is. And it leads people into various theological and practical problems, such as, “If God is love and he loves me, why am I suffering?” When done deliberately, it is actually the worship of a false god created by a person’s sinful imagination. An example of this would be, “Since God is love, he would never condemn a person and send him or her to hell.” Therefore, we need to approach this subject with humility and a teachable spirit.

In our time, professing Christians have only a surface acquaintance with the Bible. It is not unusual for a pastor to see blank stares when he refers to most of the main teachings of the Bible that are beyond the simplest gospel references or verses misused by prosperity teachers, for example, Jeremiah 29:11. “There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fullness, blessedness—the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him” (Pink, The Attributes of God, pp. 90-91).

Part of the problem that people have is a misuse of the texts that say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Clearly both texts are teaching that God is love; that is, he not only loves, but love is an essential part of his being that he expresses even toward unworthy, guilty sinners! The error that many people fall into is assuming that John is teaching that love is God’s basic attribute, because he says, “God is love.” However, that assumption fails to notice that John also says, “God is light (1 John 1:5) previously in the letter, and that he records the statement of Jesus that “God is spirit” (John 4:24). There is no reason to deduce from any of these texts the priority of one or the other of these three statements to the other. As we have already discussed in the section on God’s holiness, there is much more reason to say that holiness is God’s basic attribute. Perhaps we should remember at this point what love is according to the Bible. Love is setting one’s heart on seeking the good of the one loved, to the point of self-sacrificial giving for the one loved. Therefore, the teaching that “God is love” is tremendously encouraging to human hearts! The Maker and Preserver of all things, the God who is unlimited spirit with unmatchable holiness and justice is also love. He sets his heart on what he created to seek its good (Psalm 145:13,17). But the question asked by inquiring minds is this. If God is love, as the Bible says, then why is there suffering in creation and why do some suffer eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46)? This question deserves to be answered, and more importantly answering it will lead us to a deeper appreciation of the glory of God. We will invest some articles on the love of God. First, we will think about the characteristics of God’s love, then of his love in a general sense, and then his love in saving his people from their sins. Finally, we will consider how the truth of God’s love ought to affect us and the way we live.

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part Two)

Genesis 45:4-15

Yesterday, we viewed God’s good purpose (45:4-7). Next, we see God’s great action (45:8-11). So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute’” (NIV).

The Lord exalted Joseph as the governor of Egypt (45:8). Observe his repeated insistence that God had sent him to Egypt. Sometimes it takes a while for the message to get through to people.

We must reassert the truth of God’s sovereignty to a human-centered, naturalistic generation. God had the ability to place Joseph in a position of high authority (cf. Daniel 4:17), and he did.

“Are our leaders appointed by God?” Most surely. “But they’re so corrupt!” Then we ought to call on God to change their hearts or give us new leaders. There used to be a day when Christians would pray for those in authority over them. Listen to the apostle’s words. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV).

Joseph intended to use what God had given to him (45:9-11). He gave reassurance that he would care for them. Often the forgiver must reinforce that he or she loves those who are forgiven. This is what the Father has done through the new covenant ministry of the Spirit of adoption. Joseph knew this was necessary. God’s plan was to save their lives, and it included their relocation to Egypt. Observe how generous the Lord is. He paid for their moving expenses! God’s end includes God’s means to his end.

Lastly, Joseph conformed to God’s plan (45:12-15). He insisted that they bring his father down to Egypt. This also revealed his concern for his father’s well-being. And he wanted to be with his father again.

Joseph gave physical expression of his love for them. The repentant need to know that they are accepted again. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NIV). Sometimes a hug or even a handshake can go a long way. Joseph was a good picture of Christ. He is never weary of speaking peace to his brothers. “How He is ever striving, by His word and Spirit, to reveal Himself to you, and to get you to see Him! How does He raise you from the dust and set you on a rock that you may sound His praise!” (Candlish, Commentary on Genesis) “These kisses were seals of love, comparable to the witness of the Spirit in believing men” (Spurgeon).

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part One)

Genesis 45:4-15

We are unusual creatures. God has blessed us with rational minds, but we do not use them as we ought. On the one hand, we are content to know very little of what we ought to know. On the other hand, we want to know very much about what is not our business to know. If something bad happens, we demand a full explanation. “I want to know the reason for this!” But if something good happens, who cares to find out the reason? We must also work with inadequate source material. We have experienced numerous events, but we do not know God’s reasons for the events. Even Biblical characters had to live with the mystery of providence. Some of them knew what God was doing. However, they had difficulty understanding why God acted in a particular way; for example, Habakkuk. We must also recognize that even the experience of talking with the Lord did not guarantee an explanation for Abraham or Job.

In this passage, we have at least a partial explanation for the suffering that the members of Jacob’s family went through. Even here, however, there is no account of why God chose to act in this way. There are still areas that God reserves to himself. It is not our business to pry into them. To get on many websites, you need to know the password. If you don’t have it, the information is none of your business.

Let’s begin by viewing God’s good purpose (45:4-7). The explanation was given within a context of love (45:4).

Joseph invited his brothers to draw near. The tenderness of love seeks fellowship. This is the way God approaches his people. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16 NIV). Come near to God and he will come near to you (James 4:8a NIV).

Joseph provided reassurance of his identity. This was a clear sign that he really knew them. He pressed the point home that he was their brother. “He did not intend this as an accusation because he immediately continued by telling them that they should not be distressed or angry with themselves for what they had done to him” [Aalders, Commentary on Genesis).

Joseph’s explanation emphasized God’s will and activity. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance (45:5-7 NIV).

Having seen their repentance, he persuaded them not to punish themselves about their sin (45:5).

Joseph is a good example of a generous spirit. Though we should not excuse our own sins, we should seek to comfort the repentant with gentle words. He told them that God had sent him to Egypt and why he had sent him.

Someone might ask, “Hadn’t his brothers sold him as a slave?” Yes, but Joseph did not look at second causes. Instead, he honored God in all that has happened. The attitude of worship dominated his life. He told them what would surely happen in the near future. For years God had worked toward this time, and there was still more of this particular plan to unfold. God’s arm has a long reach.

Dear readers, let us all humble ourselves by calmly resting in the knowledge that right now the Lord God is working out his plan of salvation for the salvation of many around the world. We all are part of his good purpose. Who knows, the turmoil in your life might work out for the salvation of many? The great slogan in Philadelphia Sixers’ basketball has been “Trust the Process.” Let us trust God’s process.

Grace and peace, David

An Illustration of Electing Grace

Genesis 43:15-34

As the Scriptures tell us the story of God’s glory in Christ, some sections are illustrative of God’s acts of grace. Obviously, an illustration should not be pressed at all points, and we should not lose touch with the historic nature of the account. But with that in mind, we can observe some matters about God’s electing grace.

Electing grace is not the result of human effort (43:15-16). Joseph’s brothers were involved in the normal pursuits of this life. Their minds were set on finding food. They were not looking for Joseph. This is a characteristic of the lifestyle of a worldly person, involved in matters of life to the exclusion of God. Jesus calls us to a different way to live. For the Gentiles [the nations] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:32-33 ESV). As the brothers were not looking for Joseph, so people do not seek the Lord (Romans 3:11). Sin rules over them so that they have no room for God in their thoughts (Psalm 10:4).

Yet Joseph had a plan to work for their good, a plan for a greater good than they could imagine. All that he has done to this point in time has been with a concern for their ultimate happiness, even if they had to have sorrows along the way. The time had come to interrupt their lives. He wanted to restore his relationship with him, though they had greatly wronged him. God interrupts the lives of his chosen people. He meets them as they go their own way. This interruption comes from his grace alone. View Joseph’s method. Were they seeking food? He would use a banquet to begin to teach them his grace! Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 ESV).

Electing grace uses ministers in its plan. His servant acted according to Joseph’s will (43:17). Obedience to the master’s will is the first concern for proper service. Once R.C. Sproul was asked in a seminary class, “Why bother to evangelize if God has chosen who will be saved?” He answered, “I guess possibly because he told us to.” Joseph’s brothers misinterpreted the servant’s obedience (43:18). For this reason, the servant had to deal with their objections. The brothers stumbled over the events of providence in their lives and tried to justify themselves (43:20-22). But the steward pointed them to God as the true explanation for the event (43:23). God was the first cause, though Joseph was the second cause (cf. 42:25). We must tell people that God is involved in human history.

The servant did the most important thing; he led them to Joseph (43:24). He took them to the correct place. Sinners meet the Savior at the cross. Take them there to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). He dealt with them kindly. God’s servants ought to show forth the generosity, kindness, and compassion of their Lord. Do sinners see the beauty of the Lord when you speak to them?

Electing grace throbs with love. Joseph’s affections were set on them, even when that was hidden from them. He was interested in their well-being and inquired about it (43:27). Joseph was deeply moved when he saw his brother (43:29-30). Compare Christ’s attitude (Hebrews 12:2).

Joseph was self-controlled in the pursuit of his plan (43:31). He would not directly eat with them until the relationship was restored (43:32). He gave evidence of his great wisdom (43:33). He was discerning in his bountiful provision (43:34). In the same way, we should honor God for his wisdom in electing grace. Read Romans 8:28-30 with joy!

Grace and peace, David

The Godly Person Looking at Life (Part Two)

Psalm 36:1-12

Next, David turns his attention to the character of God (36:5-9). When we think of all that God is, well we might say, “Here is a whole world to explore” (Kidner). David directs those who listen or read to three specific areas.

Consider the Lord’s immeasurable love and faithfulness (36:5). These two qualities of God are joined in various places (cf. Psalms 57:3; 61:7; 86:15; 89:14; 115:1; 138:2). How can you think of love apart from faithfulness? There is no need for uncertainty about God’s character. David wants us to fill our souls with the grandeur of God’s love and faithfulness. Go outside on a clear night; gaze upon the wonder of deep space; understand that God’s love and faithfulness reach beyond what you can see and comprehend.

Ponder God’s incalculable righteousness and justice (36:6a). We see these two joined in other places (Psalms 33:5; 89:14; 97:2). Have you ever seen the Rocky Mountains? Great mountains are “firm and unmoved, lofty and sublime” (Spurgeon). Mighty winds disturb them not, and so nothing affects God’s righteousness and justice. “Not even to save his elect would the Lord suffer his righteousness to be set aside. No awe inspired by mountain scenery can equal that which fills the soul when it beholds the Son of God slain as a victim to vindicate the justice of the Inflexible Lawgiver” (Spurgeon).

Survey the Almighty’s active involvement with his creatures (36:6b-9).

  • God preserves life. Since the fall, we pursue destruction, but God keeps life going, constantly providing and restoring the balances of nature.
  • His love is precious. Think of valuable coins and costly jewels. The regalia of a mighty emperor is a shabby rag compared to the love of God. The value of God’s love surpasses all! What can be compared to having the almighty, eternal, all-wise, everywhere present, Sovereign Lord fully committed to love and cherish you?
  • He provides secure shelter. We can hide under the shelter of his wings (cf. Ruth 2:12; Matthew 23:37) during life’s scariest times. Sometimes we all need a hiding place. We need to be kept safe until the storm passes by. Listen my friend; the Lord Jesus invites you to find refuge under his wings. Why will you tremble naked and defenseless before sin, condemnation, and death? Run to Jesus while you may!
  • He gives abundant joy. Since sinners are at war with God, they view him as sour and dour, as full of gloom and doom. But when we see God’s justice forever satisfied in the cross of Christ, we understand his kindness and sternness (Romans 11:22). God is good and joyful; at his right hand are eternal pleasures (Psalm 16:11). When we trust him, we may drink from his river of delights.
  • He is the source of life and light. God is self-existent, having life in himself. He chooses to give life to his creatures. To have life, we must connect with God himself. This happens when you turn from your sin and trust in Christ for salvation. In a world of darkness, God is light in the full biblical meaning of purity, clarity, truth and joy.

Life apart from the living God is very uncertain and troubled. But why continue in that path? You may have joy and peace as you trust in Jesus Christ!

This produces the response of prayer (36:10-12). This prayer flows out from the truth already presented. Three ideas in his prayer:

  • A request for love and justice (36:10). We need both. We were made to experience and to share the love of God. Our lives are empty apart from his love and sharing it with others. As we live forever with the Lord, we will know more and more of how infinite his love is. And we will share this with others loved by the Lord. It won’t just be “God and me”; it will be “God and us”. And we need his righteousness at work to put our world to right. So much is wrong now! This is like the days of Noah; violence fills the earth.
  • A request for protection from the wicked (36:11) – Since we are frail, we need God to protect us from those who would harm us. “Our best defense against violence is still prayer” (Leupold).
  • An affirmation of faith (36:12) – David concludes with a look to the future. He talks about the destiny of the wicked. Many times, it seems as if evil is sure to win. But this verse calls us to look to the end of God’s story. The Sovereign Lord will triumph, and we will share in his final victory!

Keep these two contrasts before your view: the wickedness of the sinner and the incredible goodness of God. The way of life is to turn from sin and trust the life and joy giving Savior. Call on him without delay. We need to share the God of faithful love and righteous justice with others. We will have many opportunities, if we are able to stir ourselves to action. Warmer weather is on the way. We can invite others over for dinner, to go for a walk together, to attend a ball game or an outdoor concert together, or perhaps to go on a day trip together. Go where people are gathering, like some of the new town centers or special evenings in the gardens.

Grace and peace, David

Three Prisoners (Part One)

Genesis 40:1-23

By God’s appointment, the lives of people become intertwined. From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live (Acts 17:26 CSB). We receive a family by birth, neighbors by residence, schoolmates by education, fellow workers by occupation, and friends by common interests. The lives of each affect the others, often in surprising ways. Certain other people, whom we might not meet under normal circumstances, can suddenly enter our lives. It might be a car accident, a tragedy in the community, a stay in the hospital, even getting stuck in a ditch on a snowy night.

God’s purpose is always at work. He will work out all things in conformity with the counsel of his own will. In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11 CSB; cf. Romans 11:36). His purpose is not often visible to our observation. There are times he forever changes the direction of our lives by someone we meet. Such a time now comes to Joseph. However, do not think that he could read the rest of his life’s story in his meeting with two new prisoners.

The Lord opened a new chapter in Joseph’s life (40:1-4). The immediate occasion was the anger of a king. Involvement in politics exposes oneself to dangers. A king’s fury is a messenger of death, but a wise person appeases it (Proverbs 16:14 CSB). In our current situation, we observe hatred on all sides politically. It is more than kings that have fury. Pray and act for peace.

The exact nature of their offense, real or imagined, did not matter. They served an absolute monarch whose slightest whims were law. There was no opposition party, no appeal beyond the decisions of Pharaoh. If they displeased him in the slightest, his wrath could demand their demise. Yet in this dire situation, the living God was in control of the king. The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1 ESV). God directed that they be assigned to Joseph’s care.

These two new prisoners had connections with royalty. “Again we perceive how the Lord was favoring Joseph by opening the way for him to reach positions of great responsibility in the structure of the government of Egypt” (Aalders).

For a while nothing happened. Life on this planet is not a series of exciting events. All three prisoners experienced for a while the gloom and despair of prison existence. The dull days of our lives ought to be used in preparation for the days of great significance. The time to grow as a Christian is the present. The hour of crisis is a poor time to learn. We need to recognize that the people that the Lord has placed in our lives are there for a reason, for mutual benefit. Perhaps they will expose weaknesses in your spiritual character that require change. Or they might be near, because the Lord wants you to point them toward Christ and salvation. In every case, the people nearby are your neighbors, and so you are to love them. Love them joyfully today!

Grace and peace, David

Joseph and Temptation (Part Three)

Genesis 39:11-23

When we encounter temptation, the invitation to evil and its consequences is obvious. Yet by God’s amazing love and power, there is a radically different possibility—an opportunity to show forth the triumphs of his grace! What we see in this account is an interesting contrast between the ugliness of human depravity and the beauty of renewed godliness. God made use of both to accomplish his own purpose.

Joseph suffered a furious attack of seduction by Potiphar’s wife. It happened while Joseph was at the place of duty (39:11). Remember Joseph’s prudence. Men sometimes encourage women by flirtatious or seductive talk. Since we live in a culture that lusts after salacious humor, it is too easy to say things that carry a double intent. At times, it is done for a laugh at a woman’s expense; at others to send out signals of the man’s interest in the woman. But Joseph had taken the opposite course (39:10). In God’s providence, he was in danger. No one else was in the house. The modern small office or store provides a similar situation. Proper behavior and good intentions alone cannot protect us from the snares of temptation (cf. Matthew 26:41).

Joseph had a narrow escape (39:12). Her act was whorish (cf. Prov 7:10-13). His only way out was holy flight. He used the best available means to resist her advances, his feet. “It is better to lose a good coat than a good conscience” (Henry). Joseph had a godly, instead of a worldly, concept of manliness.

Joseph experienced a bitter aftermath. One might expect Joseph to be even more outwardly blessed by God immediately after such obedience to him. However, Joseph’s battle is incomplete. Two new enemies appear.

First was the unsatisfied lust of Potiphar’s wife (39:13-18). An old saying says something like, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” Potiphar’s wife was humiliated by Joseph’s refusal to join with her in sin. She determined to get revenge. Let us learn from her sin.

  • Lust can never bring lasting joy. Consider the lust of Amnon for Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
  • Lust eventually gives birth to hate. Love always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Lust soon tires of its toy and seeks someone else for excitement. It should not surprise us that marriages built on the sand of selfish passion collapse. Only commitment to love one other person produces endurance.
  • Lies then become easy to tell. She was able to twist the circumstantial evidence in her favor. Notice, by the way, her craftiness – “this Hebrew” (39:14). “A great deal of evidence may be brought against a perfectly innocent man. Let us, therefore, be slow to condemn persons of unblemished character” (Spurgeon. cf. 1 Timothy 5:19).

Second was the jealous anger of Potiphar (34:19-20). He is not to be blamed in this (Proverbs 6:30-35). However, she cleverly made him feel guilty (39:17). Watch out for those who manipulate people with guilt feelings. God restrained Potiphar’s anger so that Joseph was not killed. “This is to be ascribed to the good providence of God, which restrains the waves of the sea, and the passions of men, and sets them their bounds which they shall not pass, which watched over Joseph in a peculiar manner” (Poole). However, the rejection of forbidden pleasure gained Joseph shackles and irons. Deeper suffering came to him (Psalm 105:18).

I doubt the health, wealth and prosperity error would have had much appeal to Joseph at this point. Joseph’s obedient faith led him to a prison, Christ’s to a cross, and Stephen’s under a pile of stones. “The iron is entering into his flesh and into his spirit. The earth is shaken beneath him. The heavens are darkened over him. ‘My God,’ he may cry, ‘my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22:1)” (Candlish).

Unexpectedly, Joseph receives a slight improvement in his situation. His life has been like a wiggly road along a mountain. He found that he had a “fellow prisoner”. The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden (39:21 NIV; cf. Is 43:2; Ps 139:7-12). God’s worked by common grace in the warden’s heart to make him favor Joseph.

For this reason, we see Joseph back in training for God’s purpose for him (39:22-23). He received another supervisory position. He had learned to manage slaves. Now he had to learn to handle a more difficult group. In this, Joseph had renewed success. Notice the emphasis of the Spirit of God – the Lord. . . gave him success in whatever he did.

Learn to hope and endure, regardless of how deep and dark your prison may be. Think of how you may glorify God in that place. Your present darkness might be the place where God causes his glorious light to shine.

Grace and peace, David