Introduction: We approach the end of the book of Genesis by highlighting the caring grace and poise of faith with which Joseph prepares for the end of his life. As believers we too can have hope for that same fruit in our final years of our pilgrimage, including strength to resist old temptations and the confidence to entrust our souls to God as we die. Such knowledge of how well-provisioned we are to face the last chapter of our lives also encourages us to pass on our spiritual inheritance of faith to those who follow after us, as we will see in this week’s Bible notes.
Monday: read Genesis 50:18-21 & Galatians 5:19-23. After the death of his father, Joseph reassures his guilty, terror-stricken brothers in Gen. 50:19 that he is “not in the place of God.” Though he had all the power of Egypt at his disposal, and his brothers at his mercy for what they had done to him, Joseph refused to vengefully lord it over their lives. Do we realize what an alluring temptation such vengeance would be for Joseph and for us? There is a reason more than half of the sins of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 have to do with emotions well-suited to harming others, especially if they harmed us! “Hatred, discord… fits of rage…,” all describe plausible responses which we, with Joseph, could easily levy against Joseph’s brothers! After all, couldn’t Joseph rationalize taking matters into his own hands? He had been the one given dreams from Heaven! He had been the one sent to Egypt to suffer years of slavery and imprisonment; He alone won the favor of Pharaoh so that his family were permitted to stay in Egypt! But no – Joseph refuses to claim any privileged position over his brothers. He will not in any fashion “be in the place of God”! Thank God for the humbling and fruitful work of the Spirit even in this mighty Prince of Egypt!
Meditate and Pray: Ask the Lord to create within your heart the sweet fruits of his Spirit from Gal. 5:22-23, fruits which were lost when Adam and Eve so recklessly declared, “we will be like God”! Thank Jesus that, on the Cross, He purchased all the character traits of a godly life, all the fruits of love, patience and self-control such as Joseph displayed, so that we can learn to bear fruit – even in the barren land of “Egypt” and even when others use us and harm us for years.
Tuesday: read Genesis 50:22-23 & Romans 8:29. Gen. 50:21-23 show us how well Joseph kept his promise to care for his covenant family, including his grandsons who were placed on his knees in Gen. 50:23. Being placed on his knees, these grandsons were claimed by Joseph as his – just as earlier his father Jacob had “adopted” Ephraim and Manasseh for himself in Gen. 48:5-12. What would such an adoption entail for these grandsons of Joseph? Surely, the first prayer which Joseph would utter for these lads as they were placed on his knees would be that they would grow up with the “family likeness” of faith, having that faith impressed on their lives by the Holy Spirit of God. Was that possible in the dark spiritual world of Egypt? Well, remember how Jacob was able to endure living in Egypt 17 years (Gen. 47:28), still keeping his profession to the very end. And Joseph? Surely we have seen how God restrained him from soul-destroying sin – both in his youth in Egypt – when the Spirit enabled him to resist the almost constant temptation to adultery in the house of Potiphar in Gen. 39:10 – and in his old age – when the Spirit saved him from vengefully lording it over his guilty brothers, who cowered in his presence after the death of their father in Gen. 50:18. His soft-heartedness, unto tears (Gen. 50:17), and his reassurance, “Don’t be afraid,” along with his humble confession, “Am I in the place of God?” (Gen. 50:19), were all fruits of the work of the Spirit of God in his life; fruits which Joseph would desire to be passed on to his grandsons in Egypt as he adopted them as his own.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that all believers, Old Testament and New, including Joseph as well as ourselves, have been “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son…” (Rom. 8:29). This is our inheritance, and our highest family privilege. Ask the Lord to deliver us and our churches from an individualistic view of salvation, as if our primary goal is personal happiness and success. “Lord, give us the faith to pass on your blessings to the next generation, as Joseph took his grandsons on his knee in order to pass on to them – not the riches of Egypt – but the covenant wealth of your promises. Give us opportunity to see that “faith once for all delivered to the saints” taking root for the future, after we are gone. Amen.”
Wednesday: read Genesis 50:24-25. Right to the end, Joseph was careful to provide literally “for every mouth” (which is how Gen. 47:12 reads in Hebrew) of the families of his reconciled brothers. But, even while he was busy nourishing and building up the sons of Israel so that future generations could return to inherit the Promised Land, he did so under the painful realization that he himself would never see the fulfillment of the promises in his own earthly pilgrimage. Only his bones would return to the Promised Land which future generations of God’s people would enjoy. This is why Moses describes Joseph in Deuteronomy 33:16 (New King James translation) as “separate from his brothers,” that is, isolated in his servant role; never able to enter into the full joys of his Hebrew family; always living between the world of Egyptian royalty and his blood relatives who were lowly Hebrew shepherds. A lonely path indeed, and one of the great proofs of how conformed to the likeness of Christ Joseph was before he died. For did not Jesus labor all alone, as the “Man of Sorrows,” so that we would enjoy all the rich “togetherness” of faith?
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the great inheritance which we even now share with the pioneers of faith who went before us, namely, the privilege of being…“predestined to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son” (Romans 8:29). Isn’t it a marvelous thought to realize that our fellowship in Heaven with believers like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph will be all the more enhanced because they will understand our pilgrimage and, yes, our times of loneliness in this world – because they went through the same thing? Be encouraged. You are not alone in travelling the road of faith.
Thursday: read Genesis 50:24-25 and Hebrews 11:1-6 & 11:22 & 39-40. Hebrews 11 insists that the lives of all the ancients, from Abel onwards to our day – in other words, from Hebrews 11:4 to verse 40 – are to be understood without exception as “lives which were commended for their faith” (Heb. 11:39). For, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). In this way, therefore, we are to understand the allusion to Joseph in Hebrews 11:22. He was commended by God for his faith in “speaking about the exodus of the Israelites” and “giving instructions about his bones” (cf. Gen. 50:24-25).
But we may question such language of commendation. How could God commend great men like Joseph for their faith, let alone, lesser folks like us? Isn’t faith in its nature by grace, not by works, so that none can be commended for something they receive from God as a free gift? Moreover, which one of us could say that our faith was particularly strong or commendable? Well, nevertheless, Hebrews 11:39 is emphatic: “These were all commended for their faith…”; literally, they all “obtained a good report through faith,” meaning that God was a witness to the faith of believers like Joseph and is a witness today in approving our faith as well, as imperfect as it may be. So…does that mean that part of our faith in God must include the belief that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6)? Absolutely. If God in Grace chooses to give us, though always undeserving sinners, rewards for our halting efforts to seek Him; if God desires to give us credit as a loving Father for what He bestowed freely upon us, then we cannot argue. Such is the superabundant generosity of our God. He wants to be sought after, so much so that He moves us to seek Him in the first place, and then rewards us generously for doing so!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that you are included with the great heroes of the faith in receiving blessings and even rewards from God’s Fatherly hand; from a God who exalts the importance of faith even in our weak lives… by promising to reward its presence in every believer – no matter how undeserving we may be. As the hymn writer puts it in # 466 in our Red Trinity Hymnal:
| I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.
Thou didst reach forth Thy hand and mine enfold;
| I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee!
For Thou were long beforehand with my soul,
Always Thou lovest me.
Friday: read Genesis 50:24-26 and Psalm 104:27-33. Though it would be more than 200 years until his bones found their resting place (Joshua 24:32), at the time when Israel buried the great conqueror of the Promised Land, Joshua, Joseph’s faith nevertheless spoke of God’s continuous care as his mummified body was kept safe in Egypt until that time. What attention to detail the Lord displays in arranging that His people should end up living for hundreds of years in the only country of the ancient world with the technological skill and climate to ensure the preservation of even Joseph’s bones! Ah, but you see, that is the specificity of care which God always shows when it comes to ensuring the preservation of His own people! After all, does not Joseph promise in Genesis 50:25 that God would “come to his people’s aid” during their sojourn in the land of Egypt? In this way, Joseph by faith “spoke about the exodus of the Israelites” (Heb. 11:22).
But the word to “come to the aid” of His people literally means to “visit” and such “visits” of God mean perpetual care from Him! Just as God took care of even the smallest bone in Joseph’s body through the process of mummification, so He cared about each day in the life of even the lowliest Hebrew slave among His people! Or to put it in terms of Psalm 104:27ff: If even the lowliest part of creation looks to the Lord for its daily food… how much more we His people, created in His image! If He were to hide His face, or remove His Spirit of loving care from us for even one day (Psalm 104:29-30), we would simply perish! No, the reason we can praise Him “as long as we live” – even if we be strangers in a strange land like Egypt – is because His care for us is perpetual. “Morning by morning new mercies we see.”
Meditate and Pray: Let us reaffirm with joy this day that we have confidence in God’s Providential, and Beneficial control of all things in our lives. Even after hundreds of years in Egypt, God’s people could say with Joseph: “What men meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20).
As The Heidelberg Catechism, Q 27, puts it: What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.