There’s an amusing exchange at the end of Terry Pratchett’s book Mort where Death shows up to a wedding reception (He’s not on business). Continue reading “The Great Swallowing Act”
Joseph, if he’s famous for anything, is known for his “robe of many colors” (Genesis 37:3), probably because it provides a nice coloring exercise in Sunday School. But there does seem to be some significance to Joseph’s robe beyond it’s immediate place in Genesis 37. The author of Genesis uses Joseph’s garments as a sort of motif, a way of telling us where Joseph’s fortunes are at this point in the story.
Clothes often represent authority and status in the Old Testament. Robes are kingly. If you wear a long-sleeved coat (the term translated “many colored” may be better rendered “long-sleeved”) in the ancient world, you aren’t going out to the fields. That’s the significance of Joseph’s coat, and it helps to explain his brothers’ hatred of him.
When Joseph’s brothers take him captive and throw him into a pit, they strip off his coat first. This is more than just the first step of a dastardly scheme to convince Jacob that his son is dead; it’s a symbolic act. “You had a dream that you would rule over us, did you? Well, how do you like your pit, your highness?”
As I mentioned in a previous post, this isn’t the last time Joseph gets the coat ripped off his back. In Genesis 39 we see Joseph stripped of his garment in the process of fleeing from Potiphar’s wife. The two accounts have a number of other similarities: both times Joseph begins in a position of behavior with the man in authority; both times his clothes are taken from him; both times the man in authority is deceived by the clothes taken; both times Joseph ends up in an unfavorable position where he again finds favor.
With all of it’s similarities to Genesis 37, Genesis 39 serves as an “Oh no, not again!” moment. It’s sinking further down. Joseph has been faithful in Potiphar’s house, and so he regains a measure of status and authority, only to have it stripped from him again. Down, down, down.
And then Joseph interpret’s Pharaoh’s dream, and Pharaoh promotes him, by giving him a ring, a gold chain, and clothing him in fine linen. Joseph becomes second in the land, and God fulfills the dreams he gave to Joseph all those years ago.
There’s an important lesson here. God’s people suffer loss, betrayal, and indignity now. Sometimes it goes from bad to worse. Sometimes the trials we experience stretch on, seemingly beyond endurance. God knows this. He has not forgotten his promises to his people. And he does not intend to afflict forever.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure. (Revelation 19:7-8)
Sin and Worship
July 19, 2015
Miracle Mountain Ranch
This month marks two years since I met and befriended the greatest poet the English language has ever produced. To honor the man, I reproduce here one of my favorite poems of his, “The Holdfast.” It has helped me through some dark times recently, and I pray you will be comforted and strengthened by it as I have been.
I threat’ned to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might.
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:
We must confess, that nothing is our own.
Then I confess that he my succor is:
But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought. I stood amazed at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.
Thank you George Herbert, for showing me the God who cannot fail or fall.
I don’t know when exactly I was born again. Some people can tick off the exact day, which I think is pretty neat. For me, I’m fairly sure I know the year but that’s about it.
I believe that I was about four years old when my father came up to my bedroom to tell me a story before I fell asleep. His stories were often from the period of the kings or from the gospels, and this night it was gospels, some story about Jesus and his disciples. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what the story was, but I remember vividly it producing in me a mixed sense of longing and shame. Shame that I was so unlike Jesus, the kind and gentle healer, and longing to be with him. I prayed a prayer, something token I had probably learned from an older sibling or perhaps in children’s church, and immediately felt a wonder and happiness and peace which was so alien then but which I have come to recognize through the years as good ol’ Christian joy. I’ve doubted the legitimacy of that experience since then at one time or another, but by and large I am confident that my life in Christ began that night.
But my testimony, as much as I love it, is not my point right now. I was sitting here tonight and thinking that if my recollection of the time when I was saved is correct, then it has been twenty years since my conversion. Twenty years of sin and holiness and victory and defeat and sadness and joy and confidence and despair, and I’m still a young man yet. Tonight I tried to remember if in twenty years I’ve ever sought the Lord, really sought him, and been disappointed. I can’t think of a single time. To be sure, there have been plenty of times when the Lord has withdrawn for a season, which always feels like the three hours of darkness at Golgotha; but at the end of those seasons I’ve always been assured that the Lord had never abandoned me, even if I don’t and can’t understand why he hides his face.
I know I’m young and haven’t been through nearly a tenth of the storms that some people face in their lives, and perhaps that’s reason to doubt my confidence in God’s steadfastness in the past. Perhaps someday there will be a storm that’s just too big, and when I look for him he just won’t be there. But I’ve read my Psalms, and I’ve seen the Psalmist extrapolate time and time again. He praises God for his help in the past and looks with rock-solid assurance toward the trials of the future, knowing that the God who delivered Israel yesterday will not fail tomorrow.
So I’ve got a good fifty years left, probably. And it’s likely the storms which lie on the horizon will dwarf my past and present trials by comparison. But I remember throwing myself on Jesus twenty years ago, how he took away my shame and gave me peace, and I am sure that he who held me then and holds me now will never let me go.
“My soul waits for the Lord
more than the watchmen for the morning,
more than the watchmen for the morning.”
Been meaning to stick this up here for a while,
I sometimes worry about money. I think I’m probably not alone in this. How am I going to pay my bills, how am I going to buy groceries, get gas, can I afford to go see the new Hobbit movie, I just want to buy a coffee for Pete’s sake, why am I so hungry, I need new socks, and on and on– I have it pretty well off, but these are the questions which run through my head. Sometimes it stresses me out.
But, it’s not good for me to get stressed out, so I started trying to find a way about a year ago to combat this. God tells us not to worry, after all. I started asking myself five questions every time I get stressed out, and when I’m forced to answer these questions, my anxiety and worry melts away. It really does. Here are the questions I ask myself and meditate on:
1. Who clothes and shelters you?
2. Who feeds you?
3. Who holds your life in his hand?
4. Who equips you with all good things to do his will?
5. Who provides you with all things richly to enjoy?
These five questions get at my anxiety concerning my housing/clothes, grocery bill, medical needs, college, and recreational spending, respectively. God addresses each of these things in Scripture, which I’ll leave you to find. The questions aren’t really that profound; the answer to each, however, is extremely comforting to me. If you ever have the money-anxiety which I experience from time to time, then I hope these questions will be fruitful for your to meditate on.
Just a quick thought. I was reading Genesis this morning, about Joseph’s unjust imprisonment and the two servants of Pharaoh whose dreams he interpreted. The cupbearer was restored and the baker executed, just like Joseph told them. Then the cupbearer promptly forgot to tell Pharaoh anything about Joseph (perhaps he didn’t want to use up any favor he hadn’t got on behalf of a Hebrew?) for two years. At the end of those two years, Pharaoh dreams a few dreams, and cannot figure them out. This cues the cupbearer’s memory, and Joseph is summoned to interpret the dreams for Pharaoh.
So now Joseph, clean-up and freshly-shaven, is standing before the man in Egypt who has the most power to do him good or evil. He hasn’t had a favorable time of it so far in this land, so he might be a little nervous. Pharaoh says to him, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Genesis 41:15). Think about it– this is a lot like when someone asks you to do a huge favor for them without telling you what it is, or when your boss asks you to volunteer for a mysterious high-level project. This might be a really hard dream, and Pharaoh isn’t even giving Joseph a peek at it; he just wants to know if he can do it.
This is what makes Joseph’s response amazing: “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16). Absolute confidence. But here’s my question: how does Joseph know God will do this? Perhaps God told him, but we have no record of that. Perhaps Joseph just knew he could always interpret dreams, but we have no record of that either, and he does say that “it is not in me.” Or perhaps…
Perhaps Joseph knew he was in a tight spot, a prisoner not cared about by anyone, and Pharaoh might decide to “lift up his head” as with the baker if he were not able to interpret this dream. If that were the case, then Joseph’s response is an amazing statement of faith about the promises of God. God had told Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would do good to them and their offspring. Joseph, being daddy’s favorite, probably had heard the stories of God’s relentless blessing of Jacob in spite of Jacob’s boneheadedness. He knew that he was part of a line through which God would fulfill his promise to Abraham by blessing the whole earth.
If all that were running through Joseph’s head, then his response makes sense. What else would God do? This is the same God who honored Jacob’s weird breeding ideas in Genesis 30. Surely the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not fail to deliver Joseph, the son of Israel’s old age.
It reminds me of Moses, one of Joseph’s distant nephews, who stood on Mt. Sinai and pleaded God’s promises with him. And it gives me confidence that I myself, when tried and tempted, can remind God of his Word to me, knowing that he is faithful to perform it.
“Plead the promise of God in prayer, show him his handwriting; God is tender of his Word.” –Thomas Manton