January 18th, Exodus 4-6

Moses is my favorite Old Testament figure because of the way he constantly argues with God. I love it- it’s something we all do, but Moses just does it better and doesn’t ever seem worried that he’s going to tick off the Big Guy Upstairs. On the surface, that seems like a major character flaw, but actually it speaks to a level of trust and intimacy with God that we should all try to achieve.

  • 4:1-9 – God performs a few smaller miracles to prove to Moses his power and that he was with him.
  • 4:10-17. This may be my favorite scene in the Bible; Moses doesn’t want to do what God is calling him to do, so he argues with God and thinks of every excuse he can. How often do we all do this in our own lives? Remarkably, God compromises with Moses in the end by letting Aaron handle the talking. God wants to work with us, and will empower us and compromise with us when need be.
  • 4:21-23 – These verses are a quick summary of what is about to go down through the plagues, hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and Passover.
  • 4:24-26 – Though a confusing and disturbing story, it seems that Moses had not fulfilled the Lord’s command that all Israelite males be circumcised. In positions of leadership, we are held to a higher standard of faithfulness and Moses wasn’t meeting the minimum. Zipporah’s quick thinking resolves the issue and ends the conflict.
  • 4:29-31 – Moses and Aaron had to first get the Israelites on board before they confronted the Egyptians.
  • 5:1-21 – Moses and Aaron’s initial presence and request is actually detrimental to the Israelites as Pharaoh, in his anger, makes their work even harder on them.
  • 5:22-9 – God explains to Moses, and Moses to the Israelites, that God will restore the Israelites to the freedom and plenty of the covenant they’re under, but the Israelites are too oppressed to hear it.
  • 6:2-9 – ancient Jews knew their history and revered the patriarchs; normally this type of introduction of God and explanation of what he would do would have been powerful; they were so separated and broken, it did not
  • 6:10-13 – Once again, Moses has a set back and wants to shrink from what God is calling him to.
  • 6:14 – we begin to see people identified by tribe. Moses and Aaron come from the Levite tribe

January 17th, Exodus 1-3

  • 1:7-14 – With a new king and the death of Joseph, the Egyptians quickly forget the good Joseph did for them. As the Israelites grow in size and strength while they live in Egypt, the Egyptians grow fearful of them and eventually enslave them to keep them under control.
  • 1:15-16 – Pharaoh is trying to control the Israelite population and their ability to join enemies in war- it seems like the smarter idea would have been to keep the Israelites as friends, and therefore allies in war. Sin clouds human judgment in extraordinary ways.
  • 1:17-21 – Sometimes faithfulness seems impossible. The midwives chose faithfulness even though it was in direct disobedience to the king.
  • 2:1-10 – Moses’ mother finds a way to give him a chance at life. Moses’ sister’s quick thinking allows his mother to nurse and care for him.
  • 2:11-15 – Moses acted out in anger and though he thought he got away with it, people saw. Though he had grown up in Pharaoh’s house, he was still a Hebrew who had now killed an Egyptian.
  • 2:23-25 – God heard the Israelites’ cries and acted accordingly. This gives us hope that God hears our cries for help as well.
  • 3:1 – Jethro and Reuel are the same person.
  • 3:2 – One of the many ways God goes beyond the laws that confine us.
  • 3:4 – One of the many characters who answers God’s call with, “Here I am.” This is a statement of readiness and openness.
  • 3:9-12 – It is pretty incredible that Moses, when the God of the universe makes a request of him, gives a simple excuse of not having authority. Clearly God is his authority.
  • 3:14 – “I AM WHO I AM” has great meaning. Mainly it means that God is the same God he was yesterday, is today, and will be forever. There is no other word that can define him fully.
  • 3:19-20 – It’s not that God wanted to send down plagues on the Egyptians, but he knew it would be necessary in order to get Pharaoh to cooperate

 

January 16th, Genesis 48-50

This is the end of the book of Genesis- and the beginning of the rest of the story.

  • 48:8-11 – Jacob expresses his excitement and gratitude for not only seeing his long-lost son again, but also for getting to meet his grandchildren.
  • 48:14-22 – In an interesting twist, like in his own life, Jacob assures that the younger brother receives the greater blessing. Manasseh was the older brother, but Jacob blesses his Ephraim with carrying on the line of Israelites.
  • 48:21 – Jacob assures Joseph that his family will not always remain in Egypt, but will return to the land God gave them. This won’t happen for a while, but will happen.
  • 49:1-28 – Jacob, before dying, offers specific blessings to each of his sons. Though he blesses the actual sons, their blessings come to, in part, define the tribes they will become.
  • 50:15-21 – Our sinfulness has long-lasting consequences. We often face them long after the actual situation is over. Joseph’s brothers still have guilt and shame on them and assume their brother will now pay back evil for evil. Instead, Joseph recognizes his place in the situation and recognizes that God redeemed to good what his brother meant for evil.
  • 50:26 – Unlike his father, Joseph had made Egypt his home and was fine with being buried there.

January 15th, Genesis 46-47

Finally- after decades of separation during which Jacob was certain that his son was dead- Jacob and Joseph are reunited. It’s hard to imagine what the two of them must have felt when they saw each other for the first time.

  • 46:2 – Once again, a servant of God hears his voice and responds, “Here I am.” It should be an aspirational goal that we begin to respond to God’s callings with “Here I am.”
  • 46:4; God knows he will one day lead Israel back out of Egypt and he foreshadows it here. God knew the Israelites would be enslaved in Egypt, and still he led them there because the other option was for them to starve to death in Canaan. Sometimes God leads us into bad situations because, bad as it may be, it’s the best option.
  • 46:26-27 – Now all of Jacob’s family moved to Egypt where Joseph was in control.
  • 46:28-30; Jacob has believed for decades that his son was killed and eaten by wild animals, now he’s reunited with him- his statement that he can die now that he’s seen his son again is probably something of an understatement.
  • 47:9 – This is an interesting admission. Though Jacob clearly served God in a variety of ways and was blessed abundantly, Jacob should not be viewed as a moral role model, but an example of God using flawed people for his grand purposes.
  • 47:23-26 – Because of Joseph’s shrewdness, the Egyptian government is able to sustain all the people through the famine and gain all the land. He then implements a 20% tax to ensure the Pharaoh will have enough grain forever.
  • 47:27 – This is how the Israelites ended up in Egypt, which eventually put them in slavery.

January 14th, Genesis 43-45

One of the best parts of this story is Joseph recognizing that God used his brothers’ act of evil for good- he took their cruelty and used it to save lives. The Bible is full of stories about God using human acts of evil for divine purposes, not the least of which is the crucifixion of Christ. We often wonder why bad things happen to good people- I think our time is better spent looking for the ways that God is using human evil for good.

  • 43:16-25 – The brothers still have not recognized Joseph and are terrified that they are being lured into a situation where they will be punished for stealing the money they brought last time, even though they didn’t intentionally steal it. Why else would the overseer of all of Egypt want them to come to his house?
  • 43:30-31 – Joseph must have had a wealth of emotions. He was finally reunited with the brothers who had betrayed him as well as his youngest brother who would have been quite young when Joseph was sent away.
  • 44:1-13 – The brothers had promised, even to the point of risking the lives of their own children, to bring Benjamin home safely to their father. Finding the cup in Benjamin’s bag must have been devastating.
  • 44:16 – Judah is most likely referring to their guilt due to selling Joseph and lying to their father about it for all those years.
  • 44:33 – Judah offers himself up as a replacement for Benjamin as a servant to Joseph. When the brother sold Joseph into slavery, it was originally Judah’s idea. Everything is coming full circle.
  • 45:1-3 – Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers just as they’re begging for him to release Benjamin.
  • 45:5-8 – A beautiful act of grace and understanding. Joseph recognizes that God worked good out of what others intended for evil. Joseph was in Egypt at the perfect time to sustain tons of people through the famine.
  • 45:25-28 – Jacob understandably had difficulty believing that Joseph could be alive since he had believed for many years that he was killed by an animal. He makes it one of his dying efforts to go and see him.

 

January 13th, Genesis 41-42

To me, the most important part of Joseph’s story is the timeline. We know he was in prison for at least two years because that’s the amount of time that passes after he interprets the cup-bearer’s dream, but we don’t know how long he was in prison before that. Even if it was just two years, that’s a long time to be in prison. He must have wondered constantly if God would ever save him. Sometimes God doesn’t work as quickly as we would like, but we can trust that God’s plans are good, even when it seems like they aren’t.

  • 41:1- Joseph has now been in prison for at least two years, and probably longer. Sometimes God doesn’t remove us from bad situations as quickly as we’d like, even though he’s always faithful in the end.
  • 41:16 – The Lord has been with Joseph throughout his ups and downs and even though he has experienced some pretty low lows, he continues to give the glory to God and to rely on him.
  • 41:17-32 – As Joseph makes clear in yesterday’s reading in verse 16, Joseph is not responsible for the interpretation, God is. Joseph is just the vessel.
  • 41:32 –when things are repeated, it means it’s important and should be paid attention to. This is no different with Pharaoh’s dreams.
  • 41:37- This isn’t a prescriptive tale- God will not always reward faithfulness this lavishly. Nonetheless, it’s often true that God’s blessings, even when they take longer to get here than we’d like, are greater than we can imagine.
  • 41: 45 – Potiphera is not the same as Potipher whose house Joseph served in and was falsely accused in.
  • 42:1 – This is Jacob, Joseph’s father.
  • 42:4 – Benjamin was still young and Jacob had already lost the only other son of his favorite wife, Rachel.
  • 42:6-10 – Joseph’s dreams that frustrated his brothers when they were young, were now coming true. Joseph recognizes his brothers but they don’t recognize him because there is no way they could have imagined this scenario.
  • 42: 12-17 – Joseph uses this ruse because he wants to see his younger brother.
  • 42:21-22 – Joseph’s brothers are still haunted by the evil they did to him so many years ago.
  • 42:28 – They assumed they would somehow be accused of stealing. They felt like God was repaying their evil.
  • 42:38 – Joseph and Benjamin were the only two sons from Rachel.

January 12th,Genesis 38-40

After a brief sidestory that highlights just how terrible Judah and his sons are, we return to the story of Joseph.

At first, Joseph’s enslavement doesn’t seem so bad- he quickly earns the trust and respect of his master and is given a place of privilege (for a slave, at least). Unfortunately for him, things take a bad turn rather quickly.

  • 38:1-30 – This is a series of Judah and his family being sinful and facing the consequences. Two of his sons were killed for not doing right in the sight of the Lord. He was unfair to Tamar and she ends up pregnant by tricking him. Overall, it sounds very dysfunctional
  • 39:1-6 – Joseph’s life was a series of extreme ups and downs. He was the favorite son and had dreams of ruling over his family, but then was sold into slavery, but now has risen to power in his master’s house. There is more to come.
  • 39:7-20 – This is one of those rare times when you’re punished for something you are completely innocent of. Joseph must have wondered where God was and what he was doing in this situation.
  • 39:21-23 – But it is made clear that God had not forsaken Joseph, but sustained him throughout his time in prison.
  • 40:8- So far as we know, Joseph has never interpreted dreams before. Here he’s simply expressing his faith in God- if interpretations belong to God, then surely Joseph as God’s servant should be able to help.
  • 40: 18-19; probably not what the guy wanted to hear
  • 40:20-23 – Joseph’s dream interpretations were accurate, but the chief cup bearer not remembering him must have been disheartening.

January 11th, Genesis 35-37

Today’s story shows the deep dysfunction of Jacob’s family. Some of this may still be the result of Jacob’s sins early in his life, but it’s also the natural result of having two wives and also having children with each of those wives’ servant girls. Polygamy is common in the Old Testament but it’s never a good idea, and it never works out well for the families of those marriages- the story of Jacob’s sons and their horrific treatment of Joseph is just one example of this.

  • 35:10 – God gave Jacob a new name and thus his 12 sons become the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • 35: 11-12 – God’s words to Jacob are very similar to those in his covenant with Abraham. This seems to be a reaffirmation of God’s covenant with Abraham’s family.
  • 35:22 – This would have been like stealing.
  • Chapter 36- Sometimes we get lost in the genealogy because, these days, who knows anyone further back then their great-grandparents? In Israelite culture, however, your lineage was a big part of your honor or shame. It could give you status and importance or take it away.
  • 36:31 – The Israelites were designed not to have a human king but for God to be their only king. They didn’t get a human king until Saul many, many generations later.
  • 37:3 – Joseph was also the firstborn of his beloved wife Rachel.
  • 37:4-11 – Joseph was, to some extent, set up for failure, but he also did not help himself by sharing a dream that indicated that he would rule over his brothers.
  • 37:13 – The response, “Here I am” runs throughout the Bible. It is a response of willingness and honor.
  • 37:18-24 – Reuben, the oldest brother keeps the other brothers from killing Joseph out of envy and anger. They throw him into a cistern, a deep pit meant to collect rain water, which was important in such an arid climate.
  • 37:28 – Through a long series of events we will soon read about, Joseph is taken to Egypt, where all the Israelites eventually end up enslaved. It is amazing how the brothers’ sin ends up in the enslavement of the whole nation.
  • 37: 29-35; Joseph’s brothers haven’t just sinned against Joseph, but Jacob as well. This is an incredibly cruel thing for them to do to their father.

January 10th, Genesis 32-34

The Misadventures of Jacob, continued! Actually, Jacob makes mostly good choices today. Despite his terror at learning that his brother is nearby, Jacob not only takes his family to meet Esau, he sends lavish gifts ahead of him because he assumes that Esau is still angry, and hopes the gifts might calm him down. I imagine that Esau’s warm welcome and total forgiveness probably make Jacob feel even worse about himself, but this story marks a turning point for Jacob- he seems to mature into a respectable man in this story.

  • 32:6-7; Jacob had every reason to be afraid. He had stolen Esau’s blessing and tricked him out of his birth right. The last time Jacob heard anything about Esau it was that Esau wanted to kill him and that’s why Jacob had to go to Laban in the first place.
  • 32:12; Jacob reminds God of the covenant he made with the Israelites that was now extended through Jacob.
  • 32:24-32; It is uncertain who exactly Jacob wrestled with. Some say it was actually God and others say it was an angel of God.
  • 32:28; Jacob, though he currently has 11, eventually has 12 sons. These 12 sons each eventually become a tribe. This name change solidifies why we call them the 12 Tribes of Israel.
  • 33:1-4; Jacob’s reticence to encounter Esau and Esau’s joy to see Jacob closely mirror the reactions of the Prodigal Son and his father in Luke.
  • 34:2; Shechem raped Dinah. In ancient Israel any type of sex before marriage, whether your choice or not, was a great disgrace on women.
  • 34:21-22; The Israelites were not supposed to inter-marry with Canaanites.
  • 34:25-29; Jacob’s sons never had any intention of giving Dinah to Shechem as his wife. Instead, they planned to kill and plunder them as revenge.