Joseph, The Clueless?


Joseph025I love the story of Joseph. I just think too often in the past I idolized him. I think I did that with a lot of the Bible figures, especially if at some point they shone forth as heroes of the faith.

I now see Joseph differently. After all, he was an ordinary human like the rest of us. And he was his daddy’s favorite.

All the brothers knew he was, to the point that they became so jealous they could hardly speak to him.

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen. 37:4)

Funny thing, Joseph seemed clueless toward their attitude because he had a dream that could only be interpreted as Joseph ruling over his brothers, and he didn’t hesitate to tell them about it.

Their response was exactly what you’d imagine:

Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

But clueless Joseph wasn’t done. He had another dream, this one showing that not only his brothers would worship him but his parents would also. You’d think he would have seen his brothers’ response the last time he told them his dream, and maybe keep this one to himself. But no. He couldn’t resist, which earned him a derogatory nickname with his brothers: That Dreamer.

I have to wonder, actually, if Joseph was so clueless. Perhaps pride would better explain for his actions.

After all, Joseph was young and handsome, the favorite of his father, blessed with spiritual insight that allowed him to have prophetic dreams, which, by the way, showed him ruling over all his older brothers and his parents.

So maybe Joseph wasn’t so much unaware of his brothers’ reaction to him and to his dreams as he was proud to “share.” Scripture doesn’t tell us Joseph was proud, but his actions suggest either a cluelessness or a prideful heart.

Is it possible to know which? Perhaps. I think we can see something true about Joseph later in life that contradicts the idea that he was clueless. Of course, he might simply have changed. Who wouldn’t after his brothers sold him into slavery, after his master’s wife accused him of attempted rape, and after getting thrown in prison unjustly? But Joseph’s change is not what many would expect.

People in western society today would be clamoring for justice and perhaps revenge. Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, then as a prisoner.

There came a day, however, when two of his fellow prisoners woke up troubled. The important thing here is that Joseph noticed.

When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Gen. 40:6-7)

Mr. Clueless didn’t need someone to jab an elbow in his ribs and point to the two miserable servants of the king. He didn’t need someone spelling out that these two were upset about something. Rather, Joseph had changed—one way or the other.

Either he’d grown some sensitivity in Egypt, or he’d never been clueless in the first place. In fact, he might have been a discerning guy all along. In which case, his telling the brothers who couldn’t even speak in a friendly manner to him, all about the “I’ll one day rule over you” dream just might have been little brother Joseph rubbing their noses in his favored standing and future greatness.

I tend to think the latter was true because God still had a lesson to teach Joseph. After he accurately interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, Joseph asked the one returning to the palace to remember him. In other words, he’d done this guy a favor and was asking for a little back-scratching in return.

But God didn’t want Joseph depending on his own ways, his own manipulations. Consequently, he sat in that prison for another three years.

When at last Pharaoh’s servant did remember Joseph, it was because his master needed someone who could interpret dreams. Notice the difference in Joseph’s two responses. First to the two servants three years earlier when they were in prison:

Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

In his response was Joseph claiming to be God? I’ve not thought so, but I also know how the story ends. And I know how Joseph honored God by refusing to commit adultery with his master’s wife. Still, reading his answer to these men in the best light, I believe he took a further step forward because three years later, his response to Pharaoh was completely unambiguous.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:15-16)

Joseph the clueless became Joseph the humble who could later say to his brothers with no animosity in his heart,

And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

Joseph was in a position of power and could have brought the wrath of Pharaoh down on his brothers. He could have said, Told ya so! Instead, he wept when his brothers, fearful of Joseph’s revenge once their father died, asked for forgiveness. Then he assured them that they had no reason to fear him: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Gen. 50:19).

He certainly wasn’t clueless now, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, hefa was walking humbly with his God.

Published in: on August 14, 2014 at 7:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Defeated Foe Looks Like He’s Winning


rattlesnakeSatan is God’s enemy. He’s a rebel who wants to pull off a coup d’état, and like any undermanned foe, he’s using guerrilla tactics.

His great plan, as I’ve pointed out from time to time, is to call into question God’s word. He wants to undermine the authority of the Bible, but he also wants to undermine belief in Jesus.

The thing is, God’s Word is always a revelation of who He is, and it is truth about God’s character, His work of redemption, the essence of His personhood that Satan doesn’t want humankind to see.

But there’s one other area he systematically is going after: Creation. After all, creation is God’s first revelation to humankind. It is by what He has made that we first realize He is.

If C. S. Lewis’s fictitious head demon, Screwtape, were giving advice to his underling today, he would surely include ways to twist our understanding of God’s creative power and purpose.

    Now listen, Tapeworm, or whatever your name is, we’ve been ramping up the program to distort the information about this ridiculous species the Enemy cares so much about. You’ve fallen down on your end. There are rumors that more and more scientists have stepped forward, saying they actually believe in a designer and in the account of first things the Enemy released.
    This has got to stop!
    Nothing is more important. Nothing.
    Let your puny charges believe in the Enemy and even worship him, but be sure he’s stripped of his essential power. Let him be relegated to the role of cheerleader, watching from the sidelines, cheering Humankind along on their journey through life. Let them think the being they worship is kind and good and loving . . . and powerless. Powerless, at least, to impact the world in a meaningful way.
    Consequently, it’s up to them to take things into their own hands and do what they can to clean up this mess.
    The One they worship? He can give them a shoulder to cry on, an occasional thumbs-up atta-boy, a timely “well done” to let them know how important they are to his plans. After all, what would he be without them? They’re all that stands between him being declared a myth, a mirage, or even a bit of undigested cheese.
    Do you see where I’m going with this, Wormbottom, or whatever your name is? You must create the impression that the Enemy’s greatest displays of power either didn’t happen or were not his to claim.
    Start with the origins issue. Your subjects already feel as if their grasp of science makes them far superior to those who want to credit the Enemy with making the vastness of the universe from nothing.
    I wonder what they would think if they could see the spiritual realm, too. Of course, that’s something they must never, ever know.
    Your job is to keep your subjects developing theories they elevate to fact which leaves the Enemy out of the origins process all together. Do this, and his first source of showing himself to these weaklings is destroyed.

And so the instruction might continue.

Sadly, the plans Satan has put in motion seem to be winning. Except, that’s only an appearance. Another one of his lies. He’s attacking Scripture and creation and marriage and Jesus, all with the intent to overturn God’s sovereignty.

But that’s not possible.

God already turned Satan’s best weapon, death, into His greatest victory.

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:53-57, emphasis mine)

So Satan may look as if he’s winning when we look at what sin does in our world, but his pretension of greatness is short lived and utterly false.

If we’re tempted to doubt, all we have to do is turn our eyes to the heavens.

Milky_way_(8322292662)Isaiah 40 says, because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of the stars He made is missing. His might. His power. On display every time we look to the heavens.

Satan’s working on distracting us and deluding us so we don’t see the truth. But here it is: God is the Creator and sustainer of everything He made that has been made. He owns it. He rules it. He preserves it. And He will one day remake it all for our good and His glory.

Published in: on April 30, 2014 at 9:44 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Deception Of Power


Gideon and his three hundred men. Judges 7:9-23

Gideon and his three hundred men. Judges 7:9-23

In the book of Judges, Samson is a natural. A boy whose birth was supernaturally announced to a barren couple, set apart to God from the womb, and gifted with incredible strength.

Gideon, on the other hand, was pretty much the opposite. The youngest of his family, a member of a split tribe that wasn’t particularly influential, and questioning where the God of all the old stories was.

If I was choosing a judge, a liberator of a nation, I’d pick Samson. God picked both men, and as it turned out, Samson was the disappointment. He did more to liberate his people by his death than he had in his life. Everything he did with his strength while alive was for his own revenge.

Gideon, on the other hand, had no strength, except perhaps the power of persuasion. When he called for men to join his army, they came in the thousands. Interestingly, God didn’t use that one strength Gideon had to offer. Instead, He told His chosen leader to send most of the recruits home.

And with a small force outnumbered 1000 to 1 or more, Gideon routed the enemy. Well, God routed the enemy.

When Samson fought the Philistines and defeated them, Scripture says the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. As a man, Samson may have looked impressive, but God was the source of his strength just as He was Gideon’s.

On the flip side, the Midianites Gideon fought had chariots and huge numbers and allies. They looked invincible. But they were up against the living God, and they were no match for Him.

Because God’s ways are not our ways, He delights in using the weak and the simple and the broken and the wounded and the poor and the humble. When He does, there’s no question where the glory lies.

Samson was blind and broken when God used him most. Gideon’s army was seriously outnumbered when God used them to defeat the enemy.

Oddly, even knowing what we know because of God’s word, the majority of us, if given the choice, would align ourselves with the greater army equipped with the best weapons, positioned in the best place, in charge, on top, in control.

We understand with our heads that God is all powerful, but we’re more apt to rely on our bank account or credit rating or home security system or any of the other stuff we surround ourselves with to make us safe and secure.

When we trust in our own ways, I think it’s a bit like Samson after he broke his Nazarite vow and God’s Spirit was no longer with him–he still jumped up to take on the enemy, but that time, in his own strength. And it wasn’t enough.

Published in: on October 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Who Is Mother Nature?


cloudsOnce again I heard a weatherman credit “Mother Nature” with the change in the wind currents and pressure gradient influencing the forecast he was about to make. When I first heard the term as a child, I understood it to refer to a make-believe person like the Jolly Green Giant who oversaw the growth of amazing frozen vegetables.

Today, however, more and more people speak of “Mother Nature” as if she actually exists. Some, to be sure, are speaking of her as a personification of the force of nature, but others, by the way they are crediting Mother Nature for things like a good night’s sleep or unexpected rain, seem to actually believe a sentient being is at work.

I have to admit, I’ve been guilty in the past of tongue-in-cheek claims of “Mother Nature’s” work. I thought it was harmless pretend.

Sometimes, however, harmless pretend can soften a person or a society to a concept. As mysticism has taken hold of Western culture, ideas I once thought far-fetched are now considered normative. “Mother Nature” is slipping into that role.

But who is “Mother Nature”? A quick look at the history of the term discloses roots in various religions as well as in Greek mythology, attaching the term to a number of different goddesses.

The popularization of the term, however, has escalated as actual characters or “Mother Nature” figures have worked their way into such media as The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause movies, Happily Ever After, episodes of Stargate SG-1, and Avatar.

As society gets more and more comfortable with the idea of a being working in and through nature, who is not God, I have to wonder if stage isn’t set for a rebirth of goddess worship.

Dare I say, there are women who are part of the feminist movement who already hold their beliefs with religious fervor. If there is not already a worship of the idea of Woman, the underpinnings are there. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me to think that a religion centered on goddess worship is just around the corner.

So, in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, I want to point out that there is no separate force controlling nature apart from God Himself. He is both the creator and the sustainer of our world. In Him all He brought into being holds together.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16-17)

Maybe it’s time we retire the pretend “Mother Nature” lest we find ourselves on the edge of religion that worships nature and credits something other than God as the force behind it.

Published in: on September 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm  Comments (8)  
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Things Change, Don’t They?


I’m not a Bible scholar and I’ve never taken a course on the history of the Middle East, but I think contemporary understanding of the Bible might be missing an important truth: things change.

For example, I believe land topography changes. Just this summer I saw a news item on TV showing how much the drought here in the Midwestern US had dropped the level of certain lakes. That was in one year. Imagine what would happen over a period of three years in a land with no irrigation.

So I look at a map and think, Why couldn’t the Red Sea actually have stretched all the way to the Mediterranean during the time of Moses? Think, too, about the effect of the devastating plagues on the land. Was there even a Sahara Desert in Egypt before the locusts and hail and tainted river water?

Those who experienced the brunt of the recent “super storm,” Sandy have come away saying “Mother Nature” is more powerful than we are. The wind and rain and waves tore up man-made structures, but also uprooted trees and washed away coast land.

Imagine what forty days and forty nights of super storm could do.

I read the Bible and see Samson killing a lion not far from what today is the Gaza Strip, I read about deer and other wildlife not known to flourish in and around Israel, and I think, why couldn’t those animals have lived there when the vegetation was different? I read about all the variety of trees and forest areas various people cleared and the fruit trees the Israelites were instructed not to cut, and I think, things have changed.

I think the same could easily be true about culture. How many times have I heard sermons describing the plight of women in Israel–except, the Bible doesn’t seem to give the same picture. I wonder if some of these ideas about what life was like for women then haven’t been influenced by what life is like for women in the Middle East now.

They were subservient, many teaching the Old Testament claim. How do we explain the judge Deborah? Or Abigail who saved her husband and all that belonged to him by taking action herself? What about Jael who single-handed killed a fleeing opponent? How about the woman who defended her city by throwing down a millstone from the wall? Or the city whose leader was a woman? What about Athaliah who took the throne in Judah for six years? Or Jezebel who was the power behind Ahab’s throne? Obviously not all the women who took power or leadership were good. The point is, they are far more prevalent than you’d think if the culture had such a strict attitude toward women and their subservient place in society.

The New Testament is similar. Aquilla, for example, took his wife Priscilla with him to evangelize. Paul was confronted about going to Jerusalem by Agabus who had four daughters, all prophetesses. Anna prophesied in the temple over the baby Jesus. And as an adult He Himself spoke to women frequently, and in public. Paul counted women like Euodia and Syntyche as fellow workers. Nympha hosted a church in her house. Paul noted the faith Timothy’s mother and grandmother had. Lydia was a business woman as well as a leader in her community.

Granted, some of these women lived and traveled in areas heavily influenced by Greek culture. But that reinforces my hypothesis. Culture changes, often because of the influence of other cultures. This principle was one God warned Israel about. They were to avoid intermarrying with pagan women so they wouldn’t become idol worshipers themselves.

Things change. Land changes. Culture changes. And people change. No one is a better example of this last fact than Paul who went from murdering those following Christ to evangelizing people for Christ. Unless you count Peter, denying Christ one day and preaching Him before thousands a couple months later. How about the believers in Corinth who went from approving of immoral behavior in their midst to repenting and disciplining the one living in sin. Or Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who ran away, only to come back because He came to faith in Christ and Paul sent him back.

Too often I think we read the Bible as if things then were just like they are now. And I think we look at things now as if they will always be like they are. Unless, perhaps, they get worse.

Believing that things, land, culture, people don’t change ignores the power of God. Thankfully the Bible is full of examples to the contrary.