Genesis 45, Job 11, Hebrews 3

Read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Hebrews 3.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still living with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him.

First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery. At that point, they felt the battle was over and they had won decisively and permanently. So much for those dreams Joseph had….

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. The dreams Joseph had as a boy have come true and he now exercised power that God had prophesied he would have.

How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

I think that most of us would want some kind of revenge. Many would at least be tempted to extract some rough justice. More than a few people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would eagerly use that power to punish the brothers severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised Joseph’s ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation. God had promised to bless Abraham’s descendants. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

This realization, plus the evidence that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as God had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life–your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you.

But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.

Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1

Read Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1 and today’s devotional which is about Genesis 41.

To me, the amazing thing about Joseph’s story is not how quickly he rose after having so many down years and experiences. Throughout the painful parts of his story we were told that God was with him and was blessing him, so it isn’t surprising that things turned around for him quickly.

What’s amazing is how grateful and God-honoring Joseph was during his vindication, which we read about today here in Genesis 41.

  • When he appeared before Pharaoh to hear Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph gave glory to God for the ability to interpret his dream: “‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’” (v. 16).
  • Later, when he named his sons, Joseph chose the name Manasseh and explained, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (v. 51b). When he named his son Ephraim, he explained, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (v. 52b).

These statements ring with gratitude to God; they completely lack any sense of indignation about what had happened. I don’t know what the Hebrew would be, but I’d be tempted to name my kids, “It’s about time something good happened to me for a change” and “Take that everyone who tried to hurt me!”

What made Joseph so grateful and so quick to honor and thank God?

It was his faith in God. His faith in God is what carried him through all the problems he had faced in his life. So how could he be angry with God when it was his confidence in God that sustained him in the darkest days?

Although Joseph’s life went in unexpected directions and the pain of all that was real, it was ultimately God–not Joseph–who was vindicated here in Genesis 41. The confusing, unhappy moments in Joseph’s life were necessary to get him to this place where God would use him.

Maybe this is a message you need today, that the confusing, unhappy experiences you’re going through right now are preparing you for what God has next for you. In that case, don’t give up on God or become bitter toward him. Things might get worse before they get better, but it is all part of making you into who God wants you to be so that he can use you and bless you according to his will.

Genesis 39, Job 5, Matthew 27

Today read Genesis 39, Job 5, Matthew 27 and this devotional which is about Genesis 39.

A guy like Joseph could easily have justified an immoral relationship with Potiphar’s wife. He had been sold and enslaved unjustly. He was deprived of the blessings that he should have had as Jacob’s favored son, not to mention the opportunity to marry and have a family of his own.

Given all this, it might have been flattering to catch the eye of Potiphar’s wife. It was she who tried to initiate the relationship with Joseph (v. 7) and she was persistent about it (v. 10). Someone in Joseph’s situation may have feared the consequences from Potiphar, but at least one of her advances happened when there was nobody around to witness it (v. 11). Joseph was able to resist the temptation, however, not because he feared Potiphar but because he feared God. As he said in verse 9, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

This is the attitude we need to help us refuse temptation.

Even if nobody else ever knows about your sin, God will know and he will hold us accountable.

Joseph’s situation worsened after he obeyed God. He was unjustly accused and imprisoned but God had not abandoned him. It would take years, but his faith in God would eventually rewarded.

It’s often hard to do the right thing. Remembering that God is watching and believing his promises helps. In fact, it is what living by faith is all about.

Genesis 31, Esther 7, Matthew 22

Read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Matthew 22 today. This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc.

One (of many) reasons people use to rationalize this theft is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. He or she feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled and decided not to marry Rachel after all? What if Laban refused to marry both of his daughters to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them.

When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly she felt Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who was caught embezzling money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite his absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalms 10-13

Read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalms 10-13 today. This devotional is about Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel.

Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing–both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down?

We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.

Genesis 25, Esther 1, Matthew 18

The schedule, which you can download anytime right here, invites us to read Genesis 25, Esther 1, Matthew 18 today. The devotional below is about Genesis 25.

Death comes a shock to most people.

Trust me; as a pastor, I’m often one of the first people to find out about someone’s death. Even though the person who died might have been very old and in very poor health, the people who loved him or her are often surprised when that person dies.

The first four verses here in Genesis 25 tell us that Abraham had another life after Sarah died. He remarried (v. 1) and had a bunch of new kids (v. 2). But then Abraham died. He lived a long time (vv. 7-8), but not forever.

Such is life for all of us unless Jesus returns before our turn to die arrives.

So we shouldn’t be too surprised as we get older when other people ahead of us chronologically and even those around our age start dying.

Nor should we be surprised that death is coming for each of us. We might not want to think about it, but we should prepare for it whether we want to prepare or not.

That’s what Abraham did here in Genesis 25:1-10. He prepared for his death. Notice that:

  • His heirs were all provided for. Isaac was the covenant child, the one whom God had chosen to receive the blessing and promise of becoming a great nation (vv. 5, 11). But Abraham made sure that each of his other children was provided for before he died (v. 6).
  • His children knew his burial wishes (vv. 9-10). There was no family drama about where he would be buried or who was in charge of the arrangements. Isaac and Ishmael were in charge and he was to be buried with Sarah, his original wife and the wife of promise for him.

There is no reason to deny yourself the joys of life just because you are old and don’t know when you might die (vv. 1-4). Go ahead and get remarried if your spouse dies before you do. 

But you shouldn’t act like you’re going to live forever, either (vv. 5-6), and Abraham’s actions at the end of his life provide an excellent example for us. So: 

  1. Do you you have a will or trust that provides for your children if you die before they are adults?
  2. Does your will or trust indicate how the assets you own upon your death should be distributed?
  3. Do your children or someone else you trust know where your will is and can they get it when you die?
  4. Do you have life insurance to pay your funeral expenses at least? How about enough insurance to give them a financial blessing after you’re gone?
  5. Do your children know where you want to be buried?
  6. Have you left instructions about who should prepare your body for the grave, what your funeral should be like, and where you should be buried?

As important as it was to prepare on earth for his death, it was more important that Abraham was prepared spiritually for his death. Abraham’s death on earth did not mean the end of his existence. Note that v. 8b say that Abraham “was gathered to his people.” This can’t mean that he died because we were already told that he died in verse 8a. It also can’t mean that he was buried because we were told about his burial in verse 9.

Therefore, the phrase, “gathered to his people” describes Abraham’s life after death. Because he believed God, he was welcomed into eternity with other believers. The most important act of preparation for death is to know that you will be saved on the day of judgment. That comes only through faith in God by Jesus Christ.

But the second most important aspect of preparing for your death has to do with the spiritual instruction of your children (v. 5, 11, 21-23). While Abraham was alive, he taught his son spiritually (vv. 21-23). He taught him what it meant to trust in God (v. 21). He taught him how to lead his family in trusting God (vv. 22-23).

Are you prepared if death comes soon or suddenly? You can apply this passage to your life by taking some or all of the action steps that Abraham took in this chapter.

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Proverbs 2

Read Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9 and Proverbs 2. This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did this, “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here.

But this was stupid both times, even more so the second time after the close call back in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12:11, 13 Abraham told Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are…. say you are my sister.”

But think about how that would sound to man. “Hi, I’m Abraham and this beautiful women here is my sister Sarah.”

Well, if they were merely brother and sister and there’s no husband introduced, then it would be reasonable for a man to conclude that this beautiful woman was single and available for anyone who wanted her.

Predictably, that’s what happened; she was added to the harem of Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelek (here in Gen 20). In both cases, Abraham lost his wife and put God’s promises in jeopardy. In both cases, only God’s miraculous intervention preserved Sarah and allowed her to become the covenant mother that God had promised she would be.

So why would Abraham do this–knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men?

The answer–in both cases–was fear. Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11).

So he just lied and made Sarah available.

That was unloving to her and unnecessary. Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his servants were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

And, how often does it actually happen where a man kills another man to be with his wife? I know there are news stories where that kind of thing happens but I’ve never personally met anyone in that situation. If a man did that–killed another man to take his wife–the other men who lived around the killer would gang up on him and kill him.

So, Abraham’s fear was unspiritual, irrational, and far adrift from reality.

This incident shows what happens when we live in fear instead of faith in God’s promises; namely, we make foolish decisions. God protected Abraham because of his covenant promises that Abraham would become a great nation through the son born to Sarah. But God would have been just to allow Abraham to live through the consequences of the foolish, fear-filled decisions he made.

Are you living your life in fear instead of in faith? Do you use lies and deception to manipulate others instead of trusting God to care for you and provide for you? It is easy and tempting for us to fall into a similar trap as Abraham. Learn from his negative example in this instance and trust God instead of acting in fear.

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Matthew 11

Read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, and Matthew 11 and this devotional which is about Genesis 16.

Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

From the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 until the judgment day, people have blamed other people for decisions that turned out badly. This means sinful decisions, of course, but also decisions that were reckless, unwise, or that just didn’t turn out well.

We humans have a strong tendency to deflect blame from ourselves by blaming others. We see that tendency here in Genesis 16.

Yesterday in Genesis 15, God repeated the promise to Abram that Abram would physically father a great nation. Here in chapter 16, Abram’s wife Sarai came up with a plan to make it happen. The text of this chapter tells us three timess that this was Sarai’s plan. Notice:

  • Verse 2: “she said to Abram… sleep with my slave.”
  • Verse 3: “Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.”
  • Verse 5: “I put my slave in your arms….”

What was Abram’s role in this? “Abram agreed to what Sarai said” (v. 2) and “He slept with Hagar” (v. 4).

The plan succeded in creating an heir because “she concieved” (v. 4b). The unexpected side effect of the plan, however, was that the master-slave relationship between Sarai and Hagar was disrupted. Verse 4c-d says, “When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.” 

This is the point at which Sarai began to blame Abram. She took some responsibility when she said, “I put my slave in your arms” in verse 5c. But before she said that she said, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering” in verse 5b. Then after she admittted her role she said, “May the Lord judge between you and me” in verse 5f.

Did you notice the blame sandwich Sarai made there?

  • You are at fault: “You are responsible for the wrong” (v. 5b)
  • I played a role in it, sure: “I put my slave in your arms….” (v. 5c)
  • But you’re the one who is really at fault: “May the Lord judge between you and me” (v. 5f)

The implication of these statements is that Abram was ultimately responsible because he should not have agreed to Sarai’s plan.

And, she’s right; he should not have agreed to the plan. Abram is guilty for going along with a plan that took a shortcut to achieving God’s promise. But God did not instruct Abram or Sarai to follow this plan nor did the plan require any great amount of faith to see God’s promise fulfilled.

Instead of continuing to wait for God to keep his word, Sarai came up with her own way and Abram expressed no concern or refusal to cooperate. His passivity continued when Sarai complained about how Hagar was acting. “’Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.'” Abram was wrong to agree to the plan without consulting God and he was wrong to withdraw from the situation once it became a problem. The angel of the LORD told Hagar, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her” but those words should have come out of Abram’s mouth. He should have addressed the problem, taking responsibility for his part in it, and calling both Sarai and Hagar to do right.

But Sarai has to answer for this situation, too. It was her idea, after all. Despite her attempt to downplay her role when she said, “I put my slave in your arms,” she was still responsible for this happening.

So, let’s go back to the questions I opened this devotional with: Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

You are.

God is gracious to us; he forgives our sins when we change our minds about them and he sometimes even withholds or minimizes the consequences for our sins and unwise decisions.

What he doesn’t do, however, is absolve us from responsibility. In fact, “he shows favor to the humble” (Prov 3:34, 1 Pet 5:5, Jas 4:6). The forgiveness you want from God and the road back to righteousness runs through the town of repentance and confession. When we step up and admit what we did wrong, we are ready to receive God’s grace.

When we blame others, however, and minimize our role, problems go unsolved and unresolved. There are always other factors that lead us to do what is wrong or to make unwise choices. Often, other people are one or more of those factors. But until we accept responsibility for what we decided and did, the situation will get worse, not better.

Are you in a bad situation that you’ve tried to blame on others? Humble yourself. Own up to your role and do the right thing now. God will meet you there with forgiveness based on the blood of Christ and he’ll give you grace to deal with the situation in the best possible way.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10 today. This devotional is about Genesis 15.

Genesis 14, which we read yesterday, described how Abram and his men battled and defeated four kings who had beaten five other kings and had taken Lot captive. Scripture gives us no indication here of how that battle affected Abram emotionally but it is possible that, even though he won, Abram was traumatized by the experience.

If Abram was traumatized by that battle, it is not surprising to see God giving him comfort in the opening words here in chapter 15. In verse 1 God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield….” That phrase indicates that God was the one who had just protected Abram in battle and would protect him in the future, too.

But God went on to tell Abram that knowing God was worth more than all the wealth and power that Abram refused at the end of chapter 14: Verse 1e says, “I am… your very great reward.” 

Abram had received other promises like this from God so in verses 2-3 he questioned God about this promise. Specifically, he wanted to know how God could keep this promise given that he and Sarai had no children. 

Questioning God is a spiritually-risky thing to do. God is sovereign; he is creator. We have no right to question his will because we are his creation.

But questioning God is not always a sin. In fact, there are two types of questions. Sometimes we ask questions to understand what God has said. At other times, we ask questions to undermine God and suggest that his promises are not worth trusting.

Abram’s question was not an attack on God or his word, it was a sincere effort to understand what God said and how it would be accomplished when it seemed so unlikely.

God answered Abram’s sincere question with his word. Notice that verse 4 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.” God and Abram had already been talking so why was this phrase necessary?

The point was to remind us who is making the promise. God graciously gave Abram a clarification (v. 4) and a re-affirmation of the promise (v. 5). Though God’s answer may not have been totally satisfying, Abram accepted it in faith anyway (v. 6a).

Then verse 6b recorded one of the most important statements in the book of Genesis: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abram to be a righteous man. That declaration was not based on something Abram did to create or demonstrate his own righteousness. Rather, God considered Abram to be perfect based on his faith, not his obedience.

The lesson for us is that living by faith means trusting God’s word even when God doesn’t answer all our questions.

God commands and calls us not to be perfect on our own, but to believe; to fall in total dependence on God’s promises. 

Do this when obeying God seems risky or you are afraid or you doubt God’s goodness or wonder if God’s promise really applies to you. Fall in total dependence on his promises and watch God keep his word.

Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, Proverbs 1:20-33

Today read Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, and Proverbs 1:20-33. This devotional is about Genesis 13.

Abram and Lot must have had some kind of close personal relationship. Genesis 11:31 told us that Lot was Abram’s nephew. The fact that Lot went with Abram (12:4) when Abram left Ur suggests a close, personal friendship between Abram and Lot, one where Abram was most likely a mentor that Lot looked up to.

God had promised, in Genesis 12:3, that he would bless anyone who blessed Abram. Lot’s personal association with Abram sure seems to have brought God’s blessing to Lot’s family. As we read today in Genesis 13:6, Lot and Abram became so wealthy that “they were not able to stay together.” So, they separated themselves geographically and Abram graciously gave Lot the power to choose which land each of them would inhabit (vv. 8-9).

Verse 10 told us that Lot made his decision based on what would benefit him most economically. As a rancher, a “well watered” plain “like the garden of the Lord” would provide the best environment for Lot’s flocks and herds to thrive, contributing to Lot’s bottom line. So Abram and Lot parted for economic reasons and Lot chose his next home for economic reasons.

Verse 12 told us that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” The next verse told us that Sodom was inhabited by wicked men. When I was growing up, messages I heard on this text suggested (maybe even stated directly) that Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom” because he was curious about the wicked lifestyle of the people who lived there. I don’t think that is correct, based on 2 Peter 2:7-8. I think Lot lived near the cities, especially Sodom, because it gave him a great market for his livestock. So, again, he chose what was best for himself and his family’s prosperity despite the spiritual threats Sodom would pose to his family.

I believe the prosperity gospel is wrong, a heretical distortion of the gospel.

But I don’t believe that prosperity is wrong; in fact, I believe that we should prosper—unless God chooses not to allow us to prosper–because our faith causes us to work hard and act prudently with money. So, I’m pro-economic growth for all of us within the sovereign and the moral will of God.

But, if prosperity drives all of our decisions, we will make bad moral choices (see 1 Timothy 6:10. This happened to Lot, as we’ll see.

How about you and me?

  • Do we choose to take a job with a better salary without considering how it might affect our families?
  • What about the choices we make when it comes to spending money? Are your kids enrolled where they are in high school or college because you can save money that way? Did the spiritual and moral costs of that decision factor into your choice

Money is important; we all need it to live and I pray for the prosperity of our church members within the will of God. But don’t let money drive you to make disastrous moral decisions.

Lot would have been so much better off if he had offered to reduce his flocks and herds so that he could stay with Abram. He probably wouldn’t have been better off economically–at least not at first–but he would have retained the moral example and instructions from Abram which would have benefited him in every area of his life. Be wise; don’t allow every big decision you make to be decided only to the money needed.