Genesis 49-50

A Change In Perspective “As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil. Genesis 50:20 NLT

I think this is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible. It is a comforting reminder of the fact that God is in control of the affairs of men. It may not appear that way, but as the saying goes: looks can be deceiving. When all appears lost and your world seems to be caving in all around you, this verse stands as a reminder that God is in control. But it takes a heavenly perspective to see it. Joseph had that perspective. He had learned to see things from God's point of view rather than from his own. He had developed the ability to see God's hand in the affairs of life – even the times when things didn't seem to be turning out too well.

Here, at the end of his long and incredibly remarkable life, he finds himself surrounded by his brothers as they confess the sin they had committed against him so many years before. Their father was now dead and they were afraid that his passing would now give Joseph the freedom to get back at them for their having sold him into slavery decades earlier. They were having a hard time imagining how Joseph could have ever forgiven them for what they had done. In spite of the fact that he was now the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. Even though things had turned out well for Joseph, they thought he was still holding a grudge. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Joseph assured them that their fears were baseless. He told them, "As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil. He brought me to the high position I have today so I could save the lives of many people" (Genesis 50:20 NLT). Joseph knew something his brothers didn't know. He knew that God was in control. He knew that God had been orchestrating the circumstances surrounding his life since the beginning. He knew that God didn't CAUSE his brothers to sell him into slavery, but that God USED their sinful action to accomplish His divine plan. Joseph knew that God was not responsible for their actions, they were. But he also knew that God was responsible for the outcome. What they had intended for evil, God had used for good. But Joseph hadn't just arrived at this conclusion at the end of his life. He had known it for some time. We see him sharing his heavenly perspective all the way back in chapter 45.

But don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it. He sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. These two years of famine will grow to seven, during which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God has sent me here to keep you and your families alive so that you will become a great nation. Yes, it was God who sent me here, not you! And he has made me a counselor to Pharaoh––manager of his entire household and ruler over all Egypt. – Genesis 45:5-8 NLT

God had sent Joseph to Egypt. He had an ultimate plan for Joseph's life and it was bigger than a single moment in time. It was larger than that dark day when Joseph was betrayed by his brothers. It was big enough to include his false arrest and imprisonment, but not be derailed by it. You might say that God's plan is flexible. It is not that He is surprised by any of our actions and has to improvise, because He is all-knowing and knows ahead of time what we are going to do. But God's plan has always had to include the actions of sinful man. He has had to write His script for the story of redemption with the fact that fallen men and women are involved. But the end of the story remains unchanged. It all turns out right in the end. God is in control. Joseph knew this from experience. He had had dark moments in his life. He had had times when he questioned and doubted. He had asked God the "Why?" questions on more than one occasion. But he had also learned to see God's hand in it all. He had developed a divine perspective. Oh, that I would do the same – to continually learn to see the divine fingerprints all over the pages of my life. To begin to understand that seemingly negative circumstances do not limit my God from accomplishing His will for my life. He has the ability to produce from the most difficult situations positive outcomes and powerful lessons on His faithfulness and love. Our God is large and in charge! He is in control. May we begin to truly see that and believe it in our lives.

Father, give me a divine perspective. Help me to see Your hand in my life. Forgive me when I allow the negative circumstances I encounter to make me doubt Your power and presence. You are there and You are in control. You are working Your divine plan to perfection, even when I can't see it. Give me a growing awareness of the role You are playing in every event surrounding my life. Amen

Ken Miller Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

God's Ways Are Not Our Ways.

Genesis 47-48

But Jacob crossed his arms as he reached out to lay his hands on the boys’ heads. So his right hand was on the head of Ephraim, the younger boy, and his left hand was on the head of Manasseh, the older. Genesis 48:14 NLT

The danger in reading these Old Testament stories is to read them as just that – stories. In other words, we can end up reading them as simply some kind of ancient recounting of the lives of men and women who lived a long time ago in a culture and setting with which we can't relate. In doing so, we miss out on the real message behind the stories – the message of God's sovereign power and His redemptive plan for mankind. These are not the stories of Jacob and Joseph, they are the stories of God unfolding His divine plan for man's future restoration through His own Son. In these stories we are given a glimpse of how God was working behind the scenes to orchestrate His plan, in spite of the fallen condition of men. You see this in the story of Jacob (Israel) blessing the sons of Joseph. We are told that in his old age, Jacob requests that Joseph bring his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim to him in order that he might bless them (Genesis 48:8-9). But an interesting thing happens as he blesses the two boys. The text says that he crossed his hands, putting his right hand on the head of the younger son and his left hand on the head of the older son. The text emphasizes Jacob's extreme old age and seems to leave the read with the idea that he was just confused. Even Joseph sees what is happening and attempts to remove his father's hands and correct the situation. This shouldn't be happening! As the older son, Manasseh should be receiving the blessing. It was tradition. It was the way it had always been. Yet here was the old and seemingly senile Jacob giving his blessing to the wrong son!

Joseph was not happy with this turn of events. He wanted the blessing to go to Manasseh. But God had another plan. A plan that Jacob seemed to be in on. When Joseph attempted to remove his hand from the head of Ephraim and place it on the head of Manasseh, Jacob responded quite confidently, "I know what I’m doing, my son," he said. "Manasseh, too, will become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. His descendants will become a multitude of nations" (Genesis48:19 NLT). This was not a mistake. This was not a case of dementia. And Jacob was not showing favoritism. It was part of the divine plan of God. Matthew Henry makes this assessment in his commentary on the Old Testament:

Jacob gave him to understand that he knew what he did, and that he did it not by mistake, nor in a humour, nor from a partial affection to one more than the other,but from a spirit of prophecy, and in compliance with the divine counsels. Manasseh should be great, but truly Ephraim should be greater. When the tribes were mustered in the wilderness, Ephraim was more numerous than Manasseh, and had the standard of that squadron (Num. 1:32, 33, 35; 2:18, 20), and is named first, Ps. 80:2. Joshua was of that tribe, so was Jeroboam. The tribe of Manasseh was divided, one half on one side Jordan, the other half on the other side, which made it the less powerful and considerable.

God had a plan for Ephraim. It did not follow the plans of men. God's ways are not our ways. His plans trump our own. He may choose to do things differently than we would like. But in the end, His plans are always best, and His plans are always right. Matthew Henry goes on to say:

God, in bestowing his blessings upon his people, gives more to some than to others, more gifts, graces, and comforts, and more of the good things of this life. He often gives most to those that are least likely. He chooses the weak things of the world; raises the poor out of the dust. Grace observes not the order of nature, nor does God prefer those whom we think fittest to be preferred, but as it pleases him. It is observable how often God, by the distinguishing favours of his covenant, advanced the younger above the elder, Abel above Cain, Shem above Japheth, Abraham above Nahor and Haran, Isaac above Ishmael, Jacob above Esau; Judah and Joseph were preferred before Reuben, Moses before Aaron, David and Solomon before their elder brethren. See 1 Samuel 16:7. He tied the Jews to observe the birthright (Deuteronomy 21:17), but he never tied himself to observe it. Some make this typical of the preference given to the Gentiles above the Jews; the Gentile converts were much more numerous than those of the Jews. See Galatians 4:27. Thus free grace becomes more illustrious.

The real star of the Bible is God. This is about Him. It is about His plan. It is about His gracious interaction with fallen mankind and His orchestration of a flawless plan to redeem men from the effects of the fall. It is about grace. John Wesley said this about the story of the blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh: "Grace observes not the order of nature, nor doth God prefer those whom we think fittest to be preferred but as it pleaseth him." God always does what pleases Him. He always does what is best. We may not understand it or even like it, but we can rest assured that God's ways are always better than our ways. His plan is always better than our plan. And He is still working that plan out through our lives today, just as He did in the lives of Jacob, Joseph and Ephraim. Are you willing to trust God with your life today? 

Father, I want to grow in my trust of You. I want to become increasingly comfortable that things will not always work out the way I think they should, but that's OK, because You are in control. You are working Your plan. You are doing things that I cannot see. I don't have to panic or demand that You do things my way. I can even give up on my plans and expectations and not worry about it, because You are going to work out all things according to Your divine plan. You will do what pleases You and I will continue to learn that that outcome will always end up pleasing me. Amen

God's Plan Is Greater Than Man's.

Genesis 45-46

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Genesis 45:7 NASB

These two chapters contain one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. It is an amazing picture of the sovereignty of God and His amazing behind-the-scenes control over the affairs of men. We have seen all that has happened in the life of Joseph up until this point. Born into a large, God-fearing family, Joseph is loved by his father, but despised by his own brothers. Out of jealousy over his father's inordinate affection, they plan to murder their brother, but then decide to sell him to slave traders at the last minute. Then they spend years covering up their act with lies, leaving their father believing his favorite son was killed by an animal of some kind. Joseph is carried to Egypt and sold on the auction block and ends up in the home of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard. But even in that, we saw that the Lord was with Joseph. He was watching over him. It was no coincidence that he ended up in Potiphar's house. There he would encounter Potiphar's wife, a woman who would attempt to seduce Joseph into committing adultery with her. But he refused, causing her to falsely accuse him of attempted rape. He ended up in prison, but not just ANY prison. He was placed in the prison where the prisoners of Pharaoh were confined. Yet another example of God's sovereign hand in the affairs of Joseph's life. And there in that prion, Joseph would meet two men who worked directly for Pharaoh. Joseph would end up interpreting their dreams – a skill Joseph demonstrated no where else before. God gave him that ability during his time in jail. One of those men was released and two years later would recommend Joseph as a possible interpreter for Pharaoh's disturbing dreams. So Joseph ends up in the court of Pharaoh himself. And after providing Pharaoh with the meaning of his dreams and a recommended course of action, Joseph ends up as the second highest official in the land of Egypt! In that position he would orchestrate a huge relief effort designed to feed the nation and protect them through seven years of drought.

And in all that had happened to Joseph, he recognized the unmistakable hand of God. He told his brothers, "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance" (Genesis 45:7 NASB). He assured them, "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt" (Genesis 45:8 NASB). Joseph's entire life was a picture of the sovereign hand of God. It had not been easy. It had been filled with trials and difficulties, but God was there, working behind the scenes to bring about just the right outcome at just the right time.

The sovereign will of God is hard for us to grasp. Yet the Scriptures assure us of its reality. "You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail" (Proverbs 19:21 NLT). "We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps" (Proverbs 16:9 NLT). God is in control. He is ALWAYS in control. He says of Himself, "What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do" (Isaiah 46:11 NIV). And nowhere do you see that better illustrated than in the life of Joseph. God's plans for Joseph had been in place long before he arrived in Egypt as a slave. His brothers formulated their plan to sell their brother, but God's plan trumped theirs. God is able to use even what was meant for evil to accomplish His divine will. At the end of his life, Joseph would remind his brothers of his belief in the sovereign will of God: "As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day." (Genesis 50:20 NET). Our God is sovereign. He reigns over the affairs of men. He rules over all creation and all created things. He holds everything in His hands and has the power to do with it what He alone desires. His plans cannot be derailed, defeated, or delayed. He will do what He has set out to do. And even the mistakes, sinful reactions, and ungodly plans of men cannot alter His plans for even a moment. God is never worried. God is never surprised. God is never fearful that His plans might fail. Because He knows, "What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do" (Isaiah 46:11 NIV).

Father, what an assuring passage this should be to me. That you are in complete control of the affairs of men. You have a plan for my life and nothing I or anyone else can do will thwart that plan. You can even use my mistakes and sinful actions in such a way that Your will for me is still accomplished. I don't always know how, but I know You do. You move in ways I cannot see. You act behind the scenes – invisible to my eyes, but intimately involved in my life each day. What you have planned for me, You will do. Thank You!  Amen

A Changed Man.

Genesis 44

Please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. Genesis 44:33 NLT

When we last left Jacob's brothers, they were taking part in a sumptuous feast as the guests of Pharaoh's right-hand man. Little did they know that they were actually eating with their long-lost brother. They were too busy enjoying the grace and mercy of this powerful, yet beneficent dignitary. They were happy to be alive and not in prison. But to be eating great food as the guests of the one man they thought was going throw them all in prison when they returned – that was too good to be true.

Now we come to chapter 44. And in no time at all their feasting will turn to fear. Joseph is about to give them yet one more test of their integrity. He has his steward fill their sacks with grain and hide a valuable silver cup in the sack belonging to Benjamin. Joseph is going to see just how honest these guys really are. Have they really changed? Or are they the same brothers who sold him into slavery out of jealousy for the favoritism that Jacob had shown Joseph all those years ago (Genesis 37:18-24). Just look how Joseph set all this up. At the feast, he gave Benjamin five times the amount of food than he did the brothers (Genesis 43:34). He was showing this younger brother favoritism. And in doing so, he was testing the reactions of his older brothers. How would they respond? What would they do?

After the brothers left to return home, Joseph sends his servant after them. When he found them he was to accuse them of stealing a valuable silver cup. They would end up denying the accusation, but upon searching their belongings, it would be found in Benjamin's sack. Just imagine how this must have hit these guys. In a matter of hours they had gone from a time of feasting to a time of fear. They must have been devastated. They were so sure of their innocence that they had vowed to surrender the life of the one caught with the cup and turn themselves over as slaves for life. Now they stood before his powerful Egyptian dignitary with no hope and the painful reality that they had just become slaves for the rest of their lives. But Joseph is not done with his test. Now he tells them that they can all go free – except for the one in whose sack the cup was found – Benjamin. This was their chance! They could all walk away as free men. All they had to be willing to do was sacrifice the life of their youngest brother.

But Judah spoke up. He recounts their trip home after their first journey to Egypt. He tells how his father had initially refused to allow Benjamin to accompany them on their return trip. But when they ran out of grain, he finally gave in – with much fear and heartache. Now Judah tells Joseph that he cannot return to his father without his younger brother. Even if it meant giving up his freedom. So he makes an astounding offer. He gives himself as the substitute for Benjamin. He will take the penalty intended for his younger brother. What makes this so unique is that years earlier, Judah had been the one to come up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery. "'What can we gain by killing our brother? That would just give us a guilty conscience. Let’s sell Joseph to those Ishmaelite traders. Let’s not be responsible for his death; after all, he is our brother!' And his brothers agreed" (Genesis 37:26-27 NLT). He was quick to sell his brother up the river. Now, when confronted with the chance to do it all over again, he came up with a different solution. He would sacrifice himself. Judah was not the same man. He had changed. He now had a love for his father that he hadn't had before. He had seen the pain his first decision had caused his father. He had witnessed the loss and knew that to subject his father to that same thing again would kill him. Rather than obsessing about himself and his own needs, Judah put others first – maybe for the first time in his life. He was living out the very words that Jesus would speak years later: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13 NASB). Judah passed Joseph's test. He did what Joseph was hoping he would do. Joseph knew that God was behind this whole story of his life. We will see that clearly in the chapters ahead. He knew that God had orchestrated this whole situation in order to put him right where he was. But he wanted to see that his brothers had also learned from their mistake. He wanted to see that they had changed. And they had. God had been working in their lives as well.

God is great. God is good. He is above and beyond all our circumstances – working behind the scenes in ways that we may not initially see or comprehend. But He is there. He was working in Judah. And He changed his heart. Circumstances have a way of doing that. Especially when we see that God is in the midst of them.

Father, You are in control. You always are. I just don't always see it. You are even working in the lives of others in ways that I can't see. I may expect them to be the same old person I have always known them to be, but You have a way of working in ways that are out of my sight and beyond my ability to understand. Thank You for reminding me through this story that You are in the life-changing, heart-transforming business. You always have been. And You are in the middle of changing me.  Amen

The Unexpected, Undeserved Joy of Grace.

Genesis 42-43

So they all feasted and drank freely with him. Genesis 43:34 NLT

If you had never read this story before, you would expect it to end in revenge and retribution. Joseph, the young man sold into slavery by his own brothers, had the chance to get even. He had every right and every opportunity to pay back his brothers for their treatment of him all those years ago. He could have had them imprisoned, beaten, permanently enslaved, or even killed. But instead, Joseph extends grace. He shows them mercy. This story ends in an unexpected way – with the brothers seated at the table of the one whom they have betrayed – eating and feasting together. In the midst of a time of famine, they are treated to a sumptuous feast. Instead of being treated as enemies, they are treated as special guests. They are given the royal treatment. Joseph's actions towards his brothers is a perfect illustration of grace. He showed them unmerited favor. They did not deserve what they were receiving. In fact, they deserved just the opposite. Not only did Joseph throw a party in their favor, he is the one who had filled their sacks with money when they departed the first time (Genesis 42:27). Joseph paid for their grain our of his own pocket and returned their money to them. When they tried to give the money back, Joseph's house steward informs them that their God must have put the money there, because he had their initial payment in his possession the whole time (Genesis 43:23). In other words, Joseph paid their debt. The grain they had been eating all this time had been a gift and had cost them nothing.

I can't help but read this story and be reminded of how many times I have offended my Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet He showers me with grace. I regularly betray Him and turn my back on Him, and His response if the invite me to feast with Him. He extends to me grace, kindness, and mercy. These brothers knew what they deserved for their treatment of Joseph, and they had lived their lives fully expecting the other shoe to drop. They were waiting for God to get even with them for what they had done. "This has all happened because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his terror and anguish and heard his pleadings, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why this trouble has come upon us. 'Didn’t I tell you not to do it?' Reuben asked. 'But you wouldn’t listen. And now we are going to die because we murdered him'" (Genesis 42:21-22 NLT). They were guilt-ridden and lived their lives fully expecting to be paid back for their indiscretion. But to their surprise, they found themselves being treated to a feast. And they don't even know the whole story yet! Tomorrow, we will see their shock when they discover who it is that is treating them to a feast and showering them with favor. But we should be reminded that our God is showering us with favor each and every day of our lives. He is showing us undeserved grace. He is extending mercy. We have the opportunity to feast at His table each day. It makes no sense. It seems illogical. But it is the way of our Savior. "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it" (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

Father, thank You for Your grace. Thank You for reminding me that every day that I get to spend with You is a picture of the grace made available through Your Son. I can come boldly before Your throne and not fear retribution or revenge, because Jesus Christ has paid my debt in full. I owe nothing, but at the same time, I deserve nothing. And yet what I receive from Your hand is grace upon grace. Unbelievable!  Amen

When the World Sees God In You.

Genesis 41

As they discussed who should be appointed for the job, Pharaoh said, "Who could do it better than Joseph? For he is a man who is obviously filled with the spirit of God. Genesis 41:38 NET

Let's face it. There are a lot of people out there today who are turned off by Christians and anything having to do with Christianity. They talk about our hypocrisy, our judgmental spirit, our it's-my-way-or-the-highway mentality, our self-righteous behavior, and the overall lack of difference between our lifestyles and those of every other person in the world. Sure, some of it is unfair and uncalled for, but sometimes they have a point. When the world looks at our lives, what do they really see? Do they see Christ in us or do they simply see us trying to fake a Christ-like lifestyle?

In this story of Joseph, we see a young man who made an impression on everyone he met. There was something about him that was different. We see it in his reaction to the sexual advances of Potiphar's wife. We see it in the way he handled himself in Potiphar's house as his servant. We see it in his behavior even while in prison. Joseph was different. And the one thing that made him so different is pointed out to us by the author of the book of Genesis: "The Lord was with Joseph" (Genesis 39:2 NASB). God was with him and others were able to SEE the difference that the Lord's presence made in Joseph's life. We're told that Potiphar "saw that the Lord was withhim and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands" (Genesis 39:3 NASB). Even after his imprisonment, Joseph was given charge over everything in the prison by the chief jailer. Why? Because he saw that the Lord was with Joseph. He saw something different in the lifestyle of Joseph. He wasn't just kind and gracious. He was intelligent and resourceful. He wasn't just loving and patient. He was wise and had a way with people. There was just something about this young man that made him stand out from the rest. God was with him!

We see this most clearly in chapter 41 when Joseph is brought before Pharaoh himself. Two years earlier Joseph had successfully interpreted the dream of Pharaoh's chief cupbearer, who had been imprisoned alongside Joseph. This man had promised to remember Joseph, but had said nothing for two long years. But now he recalled this special young man who had told him the meaning of his own dream, and he recommended him to Pharaoh. Joseph is cleaned up and brought before the great Egyptian leader. After listening to Pharaoh's description of his dreams, Joseph gives him the meaning. But before doing so, Joseph told Pharaoh who the real interpreter of the dream was: God Himself. "It is beyond my power to do this," Joseph replied. "But God will tell you what it means and will set you at ease" (Genesis 41:16 NLT).

Joseph told Pharaoh the meaning of his dream, then gave him a recommended course of action. Pharaoh was blown away by this young man. He saw in Joseph something he had not seen in any of his other leaders. He saw the Spirit of God. "Are we going to find anyone else who has God's spirit in him like this?" (Genesis 41:38 MSG). Even Pharaoh, a pagan king of a godless nation, recognized the Spirit of God in Joseph's life. This was not ordinary wisdom at work. This was not magic or sorcery he was witnessing. He clearly saw, as others had, the presence of the Almighty God in the life of Joseph. Pharaoh saw what he had in this young man – an opportunity to access the wisdom of God. He said of Joseph, "“Because God has enabled you to know all this, there is no one as wise and discerning as you are!" (Genesis 41:39 NET). So he put Joseph on his payroll. He wanted this guy on his team. He knew Joseph was something special because of his relationship with the Lord.

So what about you and me? Do others see God in us? Are they attracted to us because the see something in us that is not of this world? Or do they only see our abilities, our attitudes, our intelligence, our wisdom? The story of the life of Joseph is NOT the story of the life of Joseph. It is the story of the presence of God in the life of Joseph. God's fingerprints are all over this story. God's presence can be seen in every circumstance and situation in the life of this otherwise ordinary man. It is the presence of God that made Joseph special. And His presence made those around Joseph sit up and take notice. The world is looking for the same thing today. They would love to see men and women who have the true presence of God in them. They would love to see those of us who claim to know Christ, live as if we are under the control of Christ. And if we were, they would see a marked difference in our attitudes and actions. They would recognize that there is something greater at work in us than we could manufacture ourselves. Pharaoh was surrounded by the best and brightest Egypt had to offer. But when he encountered Joseph, he saw something he had never seen before – the power and the presence of God in the life of a man. And he couldn't get enough of Joseph and his God.

What if that were to be the case for you and me today?

Father, may my life reflect that of Joseph. May I so allow the Your presence to live in me and direct me, that others would see You and not me. May they see Your power and not mind. May they witness your wisdom in place of mine. May they easily conclude that there is something radically different about me. And it is You!  Amen

Out Of Sight, But Not Out Of Mind.

Genesis 39-40

...the Lord was with him and whatever he was doing the Lord was making successful. Genesis 39:23 NET

In the previous three chapters, God seemed no where to be found. He was mentioned only once in the entire text, yet He was there – behind the scenes orchestrating and controlling events that to us looked completely out of His control. And now, as we pick up the rest of the story of Joseph, God seems to be everywhere. And there is a phrase that is repeated over and over again in this passage that should be a real source of comfort and encouragement to those of who are children of God and Christ-followers: "the Lord was with Him." This story is full of the ups and downs of a young man's life. It all started with Joseph being sold into slavery by his own brothers – all out of jealousy and the desire for revenge. He did nothing to deserve their actions – other than share with them a dream that they didn't particularly like the meaning of. Yet they sold him to a band of Ishmaelite slave traders. They take him to Egypt, bound in chains, and sell him to Potiphar, the caption of Pharaoh's bodyguard. But what does the text tell us? "The Lord was with Joseph." Not just at this point, but He had been with Joseph all along the way. It is no coincidence that Joseph ended up in Egypt and was sold to this particular man. God was with Him. God was in complete control of the circumstances. And He made Joseph "successful." We are told that "the Lord made everything he was doing successful" (Genesis 39:3 NET). Now keep in mind, Joseph was still a slave. He was still a long way from home. He was still suffering the injustice forced upon him by his own brothers. But the Lord was with him.

Everything was going great for Joseph. His presence in Potiphar's house was even having a positive impact on his master. Things were looking up. Then the bottom falls out again. This time he is falsely accused of attempted rape by Potiphar's wife – all because he turned down her sexual advances. But wait a minute! Wasn't the Lord with him? Had the Lord left him? No. The Lord was with him and knew exactly what was going on. He had other plans for this young man and it was going to include imprisonment. The next thing we know, Joseph is in prison under false charges. He is innocent, but incarcerated none-the-less. His stock had dipped, but His God had not abandoned him. "But the LORD was with Joseph there, too, and he granted Joseph favor with the chief jailer" (Genesis 39:21 NLT). Now be honest. If you had been Joseph, wouldn't your natural reaction to these circumstances have been to conclude that God had somehow left you or abandoned you? How could this be in God's will? Why would a good and loving God allow this to happen to you? But the Lord was with Joseph there – even in the middle of prison. And the Lord made everything he did successful – even in prison!

But God was not done. Because in chapter 40 we are introduced to two characters who would have a profound impact on Joseph's life. They would used by God to help introduce another new chapter into the story of Joseph and the story of God's redemptive plan for His people. Chapter 40 ends on a negative note. It simply says, "Pharaoh’s cup–bearer, however, promptly forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought" (Genesis 40:23 NLT). Joseph had done this man a favor, and asked him to extend a favor in return. But he forgot all about Joseph. We are left with a picture of Joseph sitting in prison – forgotten and alone. But was he? No, the Lord was with him. The Lord had always been with him. The Lord was directing his path and determining his destiny. God was not done with Joseph yet. But if we stop here in the story, we will wrongly conclude that all is lost. We will falsely determine that Joseph has been abandoned by God. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Now think about this. Is God with you? Is He part of your life story? Is He behind the scenes orchestrating events and determining outcomes? It might be easy to conclude that He is not because of how things have turned out. But what if Joseph had done that? What if Joseph had decided that God was nowhere in his life story just because he had been wrongly imprisoned and unjustly forgotten? We can't judge the presence of God based on our circumstances. He is there, regardless of how things may appear to be going for us – and He can prosper us even in the midst of difficulty. He has a bigger and better plan for you than what your current circumstances seem to indicate. In fact, difficulty can be a lousy determiner of God's proximity. Things may not look like they're going too well, but that does not mean God is uninvolved or out of control. The loss of a job does not indicate the loss of God's favor. It may just be the opportunity to learn to trust Him. It could be your opportunity to see Him work in ways you never would have expected. Would Joseph have chosen to be sold into slavery? Did he enjoy being falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit? Was he happy at the prospect of being left to die in prison? NO! But he was learning a valuable lesson. He was learning to see the hand of God in his life. Did he fully recognize it at this point? Probably not. But there would come a day when he would look back over the span of his life and see the unmistakable hand of God over every event and circumstance he had ever encountered. God had been with Him. And God is with you!

Father, You are with me. I can't always see you, but You are there. Thank You for reminding me that my circumstances cannot be the tool by which I determine your presence. Things are not always as they appear when You are involved. Because You are behind he scenes working Your plan to perfection. Prison could be a step towards promotion. Slavery could be a precursor to salvation. Help me rest in the reality that You are intimately involved in every circumstance of my life – whether I can see You or not. You are with me! Amen

When the One Who Sees Is Hard to See.

Genesis 36-38

Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into a deep pit. We can tell our father that a wild animal has eaten him. Then we’ll see what becomes of all his dreams! Genesis 37:20 NLT

These three chapters are filled with genealogies, stories of jealousy, hatred, and family dysfunctionality. It would be so easy to read these chapters and conclude that God is nowhere to be found. His name is just mentioned once, and only in reference to the evil life that one of Judah's sons lived before Him. There is no renewal of the covenant like we have seen so often before. There are no visions of God or visits from angels. No, there are only seemingly pointless lists of the generations of Esau, the shockingly sinister behavior of the sons of Jacob toward their younger brother Joseph, and the sad story of Judah and his treatment of Tamar. Where is God in all of this?

But if you know much about the Bible at all, you know "the rest of the story." You know that what happens to Joseph has the hand print of God all over it. This extremely sad story would have a very happy ending. Even the story of Judah and Tamar, as dark and depressing as it appears to be, has a glimmer of light within it. Because one of the sons born to Tamar from her incestuous relationship with her own father-in-law, would end up being listed in the genealogy of the Messiah (Matthew 1:3).

I am reminded that while it is sometimes difficult to see God in the midst of the circumstances of life, He is there. God is ALWAYS there and He is always orchestrating and overseeing the affairs of men. At no time are we out of His sight or operating outside of His sovereign authority. We may violate His plans and disobey His law, we may act in unrighteous ways and do unconscionable things, but God is still there and He is still in control. We may not see Him, but He sees us. We may feel like things are completely out of His control, but time will always prove us wrong. While we may have a hard time seeing God in these three chapters, He is there. The story of Joseph may sound like a twisted tale of sibling rivalry gone bad, but we will learn that it is really the story of the sovereign hand of God over the affairs of men. God is behind the scenes putting in place His plan of salvation for the people of Israel, and setting the stage for His miraculous deliverance of them from slavery and bondage. Little did the brothers of Joseph know that they were setting in motion an incredible series of circumstances that would result in the Exodus, the great Old Testament foreshadowing of the coming Messiah and His deliverance of mankind from slavery to sin.

As you read through the Old Testament, always look for God. He is there. You may not see Him immediately, but rest assured that He is there, hidden behind all the scenes and shadows of deception, hatred, moral failure, and human sinfulness. He is there. And He is the God who sees. Do you see Him in your life today? Look for Him. He is not always obvious. But rest assured that He is there behind those circumstances that appear so bleak and foreboding. He is there behind that relationship that looks hopeless. He is there behind your feelings of helplessness. He is there behind all your doubts, fears, and feelings of weakness. He is there. But we must look for Him. And sometimes we will not see Him clearly until time has passed and we are able to look back and see His fingerprints all over that portrait of our lives.

Father, You are there. You are here. You have not gone anywhere and You are not busy somewhere else. You are intimately and powerfully involved in my life and, while I may not see You clearly right now, the day will come when I will. Open my eyes today so that I might see You in the midst of my day. And when I can't, give me the faith to believe that You are there. Amen

A Faithful God Among Unfaithful People

Genesis 34-35

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Genesis 35:2 NLT

These two chapters continue to document the sad saga of mankind's downward spiral into sin and and depravity. As we follow the lives of God's covenant people, we are exposed to the flaws and failures in their lives as well as the lives of the others inhabitants of the planet. And the picture is not a pretty one. Chapter 34 begins with the rape of Jacob's only daughter, Dinah, by Shechem, one of the "princes of the land." Dinah is probably 14-15 years old when this tragedy occurs. Having defiled this young girl, Shechem begs his father to get her for his bride. No shame. No remorse or regret. Just unbridledlust. His actions lead the sons of Jacob to seek revenge. And like their father, they do so by deceit. They trick their enemies, convincing them to agree to have all the males in their community circumcised. Three days after going through this ritual the men of Shechem's family are slaughtered by Simeon and Levi. Then the rest of the sons of Jacob loot the city and take everything in it. Revenge, greed, murder, deception. Sin breeds sin – both inside and outside of the family of God.

Then right in the middle of all this wickedness, God enters in. He calls Jacob to return to Bethel, where God first confirmed His covenant with him (Genesis 28:10-19). But before Jacob can obey, he has to instruct his household to do a little housekeeping. "Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes" (Genesis 35:2 NIV). I find it fascinating that Jacob has to instruct his own family to purge their tents of any and all foreign gods. This would have included the household idols that Rachel had stolen from her father (Genesis 31:19). Jacob collects all the idols, rings, amulets, and other cultic tokens and then hides them under a tree which was near the city of Shechem. Notice that he doesn't destroy them, he just conveniently hides them until they return from worshiping God. In the face of God's faithfulness we see the constant faithlessness of men. The passage seems to infer that Jacob had every intention of returning to that tree and digging up the idols and pagan trinkets and returning them to their rightful owners. He was working both sides of the street, keeping his relationship with Yahweh intact, but also hedging his bets by allowing the worship of other gods as well.

Yet in spite of the unfaithfulness of men, God once again confirms His covenant promise to Jacob, reminding him of his recent name change and confirming the promise made to Jacob's grandfather years earlier. “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you” (Genesis 35:11-12 NIV). God is faithful. God is a covenant-keeping God who never fails to keep His word, regardless of the fickleness and failings of fallen men. He tells Jacob that He is God Almighty, El Shaddai, the mighty or overpowering One. He is great, powerful, strong, and in complete control of any and all circumstances. Yet He is gracious, merciful, and faithful. It should be a comfort to us that in the midst of all the sin and corruption surrounding us, there is a God who loves us faithfully and fully. He will do what He has promised to do. He will never fail us or let us down.

Father, You are faithful in spite of my unfaithfulness. You stay true to Your word, even when I tend to break mine. I can count on You to be there for me, even in the middle of all the sin that surrounds me. Thank You for reminding me that You are the almighty God, powerful and true. Amen

A Mighty God.

Genesis 31-33

Then he built an altar there and named it El-Elohe-Israel (Mighty Is the God of Israel). Genesis 33:20 MSG

Here at the end of chapter 33 we have a different Jacob than the one we saw leave under less-than-perfect circumstances 24 years earlier. On that day, he left a deceiver and a runaway, attempting to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, for having cheated him out of his birthright. He had left alone and in fear for his life. But now, 24 years later, he returns home, a very wealthy man with a very large family. But he still has lingering fears and doubts about how he will be received. He still has the heart of a deceiver. He struggles with deception and dishonesty. He wrestles with fear and doubt. He even wrestled with God. And that seems to be the main difference between the old Jacob and the new Israel. His awareness of God in his life. All throughout these three chapters we are given a glimpse into his growing awareness of and experience with God. God had been with him from day one. Back in chapter 28, we saw God make a promise to Jacob long before he got to the land of his uncle Laban: "What’s more, I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised" (Genesis 28:15 NLT). And God had kept His promise. He had prospered and protected Jacob for 24 years, and Jacob recognized it. He saw the hand of God in his life. "...the God of my father has been with me..." (Genesis 31:5 NASB). "Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me" (Genesis 31:7 NASB). "Thus God has taken away your father's livestock and given them to me" (Genesis 31:9 NASB).

Jacob had a growing awareness that the Lord God had been with him during these "wilderness days." God had been watching over him. In fact, God confirms that fact when He tells Jacob in a dream, "I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you" (Genesis 31:13 NASB). God had been watching Jacob the entire time. And He had been working behind the scenes to direct Jacob's paths. So when God appeared to Jacob and commanded him to return home, Jacob obeyed. Sure, he still struggled with doubt and fear. He allowed his old deceptive self to take over, refusing to tell his uncle he was leaving and clandestinely departing without saying a word. The old Jacob was alive and well, but he was growing in his awareness of and trust in God. He even went to the mat with God – literally. He got to go hand-to-hand with the pre-incarnate Christ Himself, refusing to let Him go until He blessed him. Which reveals the Jacob we all know and love. In spite of God's verbal promise to watch over and keep him, and Jacob's personal testimony that God had done just that, he still was not satisfied until he got a verbal blessing from the mouth of God. So he wrestled with God and got his blessing, along with a name change and a limp. From that point forward he was to be called Israel – "he fights with God." What a perfect name for this guy. Jacob knew he had seen God and said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared" (Genesis 32:30 NASB). Jacob had seen the face of and felt the hand of God in his life. And he would never be quite the same.

Fear and doubt would still be his constant companions. He would still struggle with deception and deceit. He would tend to take matters into his own hands. But he knew that God was there. When returning to confront his brother Esau, we see Jacob relying on his own scheming, but he also couples it with prayer. He recognizes his unworthiness and asks God to keep His promise to protect him (Genesis 32:9-12). Jacob bounced between faith in the promises of God and his fear of men. But don't we all? Don't we all see the hand of God in our life, but still doubt and fear? Don't we all wrestle and contend with God, and then take matters into our own hands, doubting that He can really do what He has promised to do?

But when Jacob finally arrived safely home, having been restored to a right relationship with his long-estranged brother, he put up an altar and worshiped the One who had made it all possible. Jacob knew he had little or nothing to do with his success those 24 years or with his brother's warm reception. It was all the work of God. So he called the place where he built his altar, El-Elohe-Israel – "a mighty God is the God of Israel." It had taken 24 years, but Jacob had learned a valuable lesson about his God. Because this name was a personal statement. He is Israel and the God of whom he speaks is HIS God. He, Israel, served a mighty, powerful, personal God. His God was involved in his life. His God saw everything going on in his life. His God was a promise-keeping God. His God was a God who was willing to wrestle with him and not destroy him. His God was involved in every area of his life, behind the scenes, orchestrating every event and every circumstance. So what about your God? What about my God? Can I say, "a mighty God is the God of Ken?" Do I see Him? Am I wrestling with Him? Is my awareness of Him growing with each passing day? Do I trust Him to keep His promises to me?

Father, You are a mighty God. And You are trying to show me just how mighty You really are. Not just in history, but in my life every day. Give me a growing awareness of Your presence and power in my life. You are there and You care. You are working behind the scenes in ways I can't even see. You wrestle with me virtually every day. Sometimes You leave me limping. But never let me miss Your presence in my life. Amen

God's Way Vs. Man's Way.

Genesis 29-30

Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by giving her a child. Genesis 29:22 NLT

These two chapters are like watching a television soap opera. There is so much scheming, drama, deception, revenge, hatred, and gratuitous sex, it's almost unbelievable. And the amazing thing is that you are seeing the twelve tribes of Israel come about right before your eyes. In chapter 29 you have the deceiver getting deceived. Jacob, the guy who had tricked his own brother out of his birthright, then deceived his father into giving the blessing intended for his brother to him, gets hoodwinked by his uncle Laban. He agrees to work seven years for his uncle in order to gain the hand of his daughter, Rachel. But after seven years of faithful service, on the night he is to consummate his marriage to Rachel, he is given her older sister Leah instead. The deceiver got deceived. A week later he is given Rachel as well, but he must work another seven years for his uncle.

Then the fun begins. Rachel is barren. But Leah is prolific. She bears him a number of sons. But Rachel bears him none. Jealousy ensues. And Rachel comes up with a plan much like her grand-mother-in-law did. She gives her handmaiden to Jacob so she might bear him children. And like his grandfather, he agrees. Rather than seek God's help regarding his wife's barrenness like his father Isaac had done for Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Jacob just gives in to Rachel's wishes. And so Jacob has another set of sons through his wife's handmaiden. Not to be outdone, Leah gives her handmaiden to Jacob and she bears him sons. Do you see the competition, jealousy, pride, and lack of leadership displayed in these two chapters. It is almost painful to watch. Rachel and Leah even bargain over their husband and their right to have sex with him (Genesis 30:15-16). Jacob is a pathetic figure in this story. He is a pawn in the hands of his wives and displays no spiritual leadership at all. And the entire story is another display of men and women attempting to do God's will their own way. But they are all out for number one. Everyone is concerned for themselves. They could really care less for what God is interested in. But in verse 22 we see that in the midst of all this deception and intrigue, Rachel had been praying to God. She had yet to conceive. She had yet to give her husband a son. She had come up with her own plan, but it had not satisfied. She was still discontent. So she prayed. And God heard. And He answered. In spite of all the unfaithfulness, scheming, jealousy, revenge, and deception, God showed grace and intervened. He opened Rachel's womb and she bore Jacob a son. And what an important son he would prove to be. This child would prove to be the savior of the descendants of Abraham. He would be God's chosen one who would become the second-in-command to Pharaoh and who would one day provide Abraham's descendants a safe haven in the land of Egypt. Little did Jacob, Rachel, and Leah know the significance of this one birth. But the same is true for us. In the midst of all our scheming and attempts to live life our way and on our own terms, God is at work behind the scenes. He is the God who sees. He is the God who knows what is best. He knew Rachel's problem and He had a solution. He heard her prayers and He had an answer prepared. Oh, that we would learn to wait on God and call out to God in the midst of our problems. But like Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, we are always trying to solve things on our own. God is in control. He has a plan and His plan is perfect. He really doesn't need our help. He wants to show us His power, but we are too busy trying to show Him our power. We are too busy working our plans to stop and ask Him what His might be. But when Rachel prayed, God heard. When Rachel called out, God responded. And He gave her a son. A son who would prove to be a literal god-send in the years ahead. God's way is always the best way.

Father, Your way is always best. Your will is always right. You have a plan and You are working that plan out in perfection Forgive me when I try to help you out by implementing my own plan. I am just as guilty of scheming as Jacob, Rachel or Leah. Too often, my plans end up being in direct conflict with Yours. But I am thankful that Your plans are unstoppable. And that even when I have messed things up, you hear me cry out and You answer. You are faithful Father. And I am grateful. Amen

Like Father, Like Son.

Genesis 26-28

And when the men there asked him about Rebekah, he said, "She is my sister." He was afraid to admit that she was his wife. He thought they would kill him to get her, because she was very beautiful. Genesis 16:7 NLT

Have you ever noticed how it is that our kids seem to pick up all our worst habits? In fact, the things I get most frustrated about with my kids are usually habits they picked up from me. Like sponges, they seem to absorb character traits they see in us. And sometimes they take them to a whole new level. My wife has a saying she likes to use whenever she sees one of our kids emulating a habit or attitude of mine that is not exactly flattering – it's "what parents do in moderation, children do to excess."

You see this statement lived out in these three chapters of the book of Genesis. Abraham passed down to his son, Isaac, a certain predisposition to deception. All the way back in chapters 12 and 20, Abraham had convinced his wife Sarah to lie about being married to him, in order to protect himself. Because of her beauty, he was afraid that they would kill him in order to get to her. So he had her lie and say that she was his sister. Neither time was this sanctioned by God. And both times it nearly ended in disaster. Now here we are years later, long after Abraham has dies, and we find his son, Isaac, following in his footsteps. He repeats the sin of his father Abraham by commanding his wife Rebekah to lie and say that she is his sister. This was deja vu all over again. Similar situation. Same results. There was a famine in the land and Isaac is forced to move to a new place in order to keep his flocks alive. He is even directed by God where to go. But in spite of the fact that God was directing his path, he panics and allows fear to get the best of him. Instead of trusting God for his safety, he comes up with his own plan, involving deception and lying. But his deceit is quickly exposed and he is confronted about it by the citizens of the land in which he has settled. He only confessed it when confronted about it. Otherwise he would have continued living the lie – leaving his wife exposed to potential harm the entire time.

Yet in spite of all this, Isaac, like his father before him, is blessed beyond belief. We are told that "That year Isaac’s crops were tremendous! He harvested a hundred times more grain than he planted, for the LORD blessed him. He became a rich man, and his wealth only continued to grow" (Genesis 26:12-12 NLT). But the blessing of God was not a reward for his behavior, but a reflection of God's faithfulness. He was going to keep the covenant promise He had made to Abraham.

And while he was blessed and prosperous, Isaac would find that his deception would have long-term consequences. First of all, his deception caused the people of the land to distrust him. He was an unwelcome guest in their land. And his increasing affluence caused them to be jealous of him. They resented him. So much so that they tried to ruin him by filling in all his wells so that his herds would have no water. This conflict finally resulted in Isaac leaving their land and settling elsewhere. But in spite of Isaac's mistakes, God was still in charge and ordering his future. God even reconfirmed His covenant with Isaac and restated His intent to give he and his descendants a land, a seed, and a blessing (Genesis 26:24).

But the gene of deception was going to get passed down yet again. This time to Jacob, Isaac's son. We see this sad story in chapters 27-28. Jacob had already deceived his brother Esau once, having convinced him to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. Now Jacob and his mother conspire to deceive his father Isaac. They come up with a plan to deceive him into giving Jacob the blessing that was meant for Esau. The interesting thing is that God had already told Rebekah that Esau would serve Jacob. The younger son would rule over the elder son. But she decided God needed help in making this happen. And she chose to use deception to make it happen. Jacob was completely complicit in this whole affair. He played his part to the tee. He deceived his father and received the blessing. But once again, it was to result in less-than-perfect circumstances. Jacob would be forced to leave his father's home and journey to his mother's homeland, where he would live with her family. She intended this to be a brief stay, while Esau got over his anger for having been deceived. But it would actually be many years before Jacob returned, and she would never live long enough to see her son again. Their deception would prove incredibly costly. And Jacob the deceiver would find that a life of deception breeds deception. But that is a story for another day.

I guess the main message is the power that a life of deceit has over all those with whom it comes in contact. It is like a cancer, having a negative influence on the deceiver as well as the deceived. It produces discord, anger, resentment, jealousy, and results in disunity and further deception. Our intentions may be noble and our desires pure, but any time we choose deceit as our primary means of accomplishing our objectives, the results will always be negative. Deceit is antithetical to trust. We tend to deceive when we refuse to believe. We lie when we find it hard to rely on God. The Proverbs warn us, "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death" (Proverbs 14:12 NLT). Our deceptions may look good in the planning stages, but the results are always disappointing. Trusting is always better than deceiving. Just ask Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.

Father, how easy it is to try and deceive those around us. We don't intend to deceive. We don't even see it as deception. We just think we are coming up with a good plan to get us through the circumstances we are in. But instead of trusting You, we rely on our own faulty reasoning to deliver us. Show me how to trust You more. A lie of deception is deadly. Not only to me, but to all those around me. Especially my children. Amen

The Esau Syndrome.

Genesis 24-25

"Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?” Genesis 25:32 NLT

The spiritual versus the physical. These two areas of our lives are always in constant battle. The flesh against the Spirit. Over in Romans 8:5 we are told, "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (NASB). In Galatians 6:8 we read, "Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit" (NLT). This is the Esau Syndrome. Whenever we allow our flesh, our natural desires or appetites to control our lives, we are suffering from the Esau syndrome. In the story of Esau and Jacob, you have two men who, in spite of the fact they are twins, are polar opposites in respect to their personalities and lifestyles. They may have been born at the same time and from the same womb, but that is where the similarities end.

Esau was a man's man, a hunter-gatherer, who loved the outdoors. Jacob was a "mama's boy" who "was a peaceful man, living in tents" (Genesis 25:27). The New Living Translation describes him as "the kind of person who liked to stay at home." But the real difference between these two men lie in their outlook or approach to life. It seems that Esau was a man who was controlled by his passions and his appetites. He was a man who lived in the moment, not particularly interested in future blessings or spiritual inheritances. He was driven by sight, what he could see and touch. This is made painfully clear in the story of chapter 25. He came in from the field and found his brother Jacob cooking up a pot of stew. Hungry and driven by his appetite, he asks his brother for a taste of the stew. He doesn't even know what it is, referring to it simply as "red stuff." Jacob takes advantage of this opportunity to make a deal with his brother. He would give him the stew in exchange for his inheritance. To any of us reading this story, we can't help be struck by the inequality of this "bargain." A bowl of lentil soup for an inheritance that was worth a fortune. It just doesn't make sense. Why would Esau even agree to such an offer? It seems he is so driven by his physical appetites that he can't help himself. He is willing to give up his rightful inheritance in exchange for a meal. But it also reveals his apparent disdain for his inheritance. It seems to have no value to him. It is not his at that moment. It is little more than a promise of future blessing. He can't enjoy it now. It won't even be his until his father is gone. So what good is it to him?

Driven by desire

What exactly is the Esau syndrome? We are given the answer in the book of Hebrews: "Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God's lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite" (Hebrews 12:16 MSG). The Esau Syndrome is to allow our physical appetites to overpower or control our spiritual appetites. It is any time we give in to the flesh instead of listening to the Spirit. I love the way Matthew Henry describes it in his commentary:

The gratifying of the sensual appetite is that which ruins thousands of precious souls: surely, if Esau was hungry and faint, he might have got a meal’s meat cheaper than at the expense of his birthright; but he was unaccountably fond of the colour of this pottage, and could not deny himself the satisfaction of a mess of it, whatever it cost him. Never better can come of it, when men’s hearts walk after their eyes (Job 31:7), and when they serve their own bellies: therefore look not thou upon the wine, or, as Esau, upon the pottage, when it is red, when it gives that colour in the cup, in the dish, which is most inviting, Proverbs 23:31. If we use ourselves to deny ourselves, we break the forces of most temptations.

Esau devalued the very thing that could bring value to his life: His inheritance. It meant little or nothing to him. "He is called profane Esau for it (Hebrews 12:16), because for one morsel of meat he sold his birthright, as dear a morsel as ever was eaten since the forbidden fruit; and he lived to regret it when it was too late. Never was there such a foolish bargain as this which Esau now made" (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible). Yet, we make similar bargain every day when we sell our "birthright" – our spiritual inheritance as saints – for the passing pleasures of this world. We give in to our appetites and sell ourselves short. We go for the immediate satisfaction of a sinful thought, a worldly pleasure, a physical enjoyment – rather than keeping our focus of the future. We tend to live for the immediate and are unwilling to wait for what God has in store for us. It is interesting to note that God had already told Rebekah that Jacob was going to get the inheritance. "The sons in your womb will become two rival nations. One nation will be stronger than the other; the descendants of your older son will serve the descendants of your younger son" (Genesis 25:23 NLT). But Esau would play a part in the forfeiture of the inheritance by selling it. It wouldn't have to be taken from him because he would willingly sell it in exchange for something more immediate and physically gratifying.

As believers we have been promised a rich and valuable inheritance. It is ours and awaits us in the future. But because we live in the NOW, we sometimes struggle with waiting for it. So we "sell" it in exchange for more immediate gratification. We trade future blessing for immediate satisfaction. And like Esau, we live to regret it. The stew may taste great going down, but it will not last. It will not satisfy for long. We will always regret giving in to our physical appetites and live only to satisfy our sinful desires.

Father, I don't want to live like Esau, driven by my physical appetites. I want to be a man who lives for You and who keeps my eyes on the prize. Forgive me though when I allow my flesh to dictate my decisions. Give me the strength to listen to the Spirit so that I might listen to His direction and enjoy the benefits of Your promises over the false promises of this world. Amen

A Promise, But No Land

Genesis 23

Here I am, a stranger in a foreign land, with no place to bury my wife. Please let me have a piece of land for a burial plot."– Genesis 23:4 NLT

Have you ever had someone make a promise to you and not keep it? Or have you ever made a promise to someone else and fail to follow through on that promise? It happens all the time. And when it does, it usually causes us to lose trust in the one who made the promise. We begin to doubt their word. We question the believability of any and all promises they have made us. It's only natural. So when we come to chapter 23 of Genesis, we find a story, that at first glance, doesn't seem to have a lot of meat to it. It records the death of Sarah and Abraham's bartering with the Hittites in order to buy a plot of land on which to bury her remains. It's easy to just blow through this passage and miss out on what could be a very important point that Moses, the author, is trying to make.

When Sarah dies, Abraham makes plans to bury her. But he has a problem. He owns no land. Now this is significant. He is living in the very land that God had promised to give to he and his descendants, but at this point not one acre of it belongs to him. Yet over and over again God had reiterated His promise to give this land to Abraham and his descendants. Back in chapter 13, God had reaffirmed His promise to Abraham regarding the land: "Look as far as you can see in every direction. I am going to give all this land to you and your offspring as a permanent possession And I am going to give you so many descendants that, like dust, they cannot be counted! Take a walk in every direction and explore the new possessions I am giving you" (Genesis 13:14-17 NLT).

Seems pretty clear. God was going to give Abraham all the land he could see as his possession. Yet on the day Sarah died, he didn't even own enough land to bury his wife. All he had was a future promise. According to God, this land would all be his someday. But at this moment, it belonged to Ephron the son of Zohar. According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham was a foreigner living in the very land that God had promised to give him. "And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith––for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent" (Hebrews 11:9 NLT).

Abraham was living by faith. He had been promised everything, but owned nothing. Yet, rather than complain to God about his lot in life, Abraham went about buying a plot of land – a plot of land that rightfully belonged to him. Why? The writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us: "Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God" (Hebrews 11:10 NLT). He had a future focus. He wasn't going to limit the promises of God by putting a time limit on Him. He had learned this lesson while waiting on God's promise of an heir. He had tried to put a time table on God's promise and that had caused nothing but pain and sorrow. It had even caused him to take matters into his own hands. Which proved disastrous and disappointing. Abraham was learning to trust God. He was learning to believe that God's timing was perfect and impeccable. Sarah had died never seeing the promise regarding the land fulfilled. But the same thing would happen to Abraham. He would live out his life never seeing the fulfillment of God's promise. Yet he believed. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says this about Abraham and the others listed in the "Hall of Faith." "All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth" (Hebrews 11:13 NLT). These people had a future focus. They welcomed or embraced the future fulfillment of God's promises as if they were already here. They didn't have to see the results to believe that they would happen.

A Heavenly Home

Was God going to give this land to Abraham and his descendants? You bet. Would Abraham ever see that happen? No. But he knew it would. And he also knew that God had something even better in store for him. "But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them" (Hebrews 11:16 NLT). Abraham wasn't obsessed with owning land and extending his little kingdom on earth. He was content to let God work all that out on His own timeline.

What about us? Are we willing to trust God with the future? Are we willing to believe the promises of God even when they look as if they will never happen in our lifetime? That requires faith. "What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see" (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Faith is what kept Abraham going. Faith is what kept him strong even when the promise was delayed. Chapter 11 of Hebrews, that great "Hall of Faith," tells us of the great exploits of those who lived their lives by faith and not by sight. As a result, "Their weakness was turned to strength" (Hebrews 11:34 NLT). Oh for a generation of individuals who will "faith up" to the fact that God can be trusted to keep His promises.

Father, You are faithful all the time! You never fail to keep Your promises. Yet I still doubt and question whether You will. Give me the faith of Abraham. Let my weakness be turned to strength as I learn to trust You, confident that what You have promised is going to happen, even when I can't see it. Amen

The Lord Will Provide.

Genesis 21-22

Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together. Genesis 22:8 NASB

This statement by Abraham was not just lip service. He believed it. In spite of the fact that he was on his way to sacrifice his own son at the Lord's command. He believed that God would see to it that everything turned out all right – even if he was forced to go through with the command to take his own son's life. Over in the book of Hebrews we learn that Abraham even believed that if he had to go through with the plan to kill his own son, which he was more than willing to do, God would raise Isaac from the dead. "It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, 'Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.' Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead" (Hebrews 11:17-19 NLT).

The Lord will provide. That is the theme of these two chapters. In fact, that is the name Abraham gave to the place where he was about to sacrifice his own son. In the Hebrew it is Yahweh Yireh and it literally means, "The Lord will see to it." God had this situation well in hand and knew exactly what to do. Abraham could trust God for the outcome because God sees and knows. His plan is best. Abraham had been learning to trust God. This was not the first time Abraham had been asked to sacrifice a son by God. Back in chapter 21 God had told Abraham to send his firstborn by Hagar away into the wilderness. Sarah demanded that Abraham get rid of Ishmael because of his mocking behavior towards Isaac. Her demand greatly distressed Abraham, but God confirmed that he was to listen to Sarah and send Ishmael away. "So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food for the journey, and strapped a container of water to Hagar’s shoulders. He sent her away with their son, and she walked out into the wilderness of Beersheba, wandering aimlessly" (Genesis 21:14 NLT). This had to have been hard for Abraham. But God had promised to take care of his son and to bless him. "But God told Abraham, 'Do not be upset over the boy and your servant wife. Do just as Sarah says, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he also is your son'" (Genesis 21:12-13 NLT). Just a few verses later, after wandering around in the wilderness in despair, God visits Hagar and confirms His promise to her and the text says, "God was with the lad" (Genesis 21:20).

The Fear of the Lord

Just about the time Abraham was going to plunge the knife into his son's body, God intervened. He stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice. And He immediately said to Abraham, "for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me" (Genesis 22:12 NLT). Abraham's devotion to God was exhibited in his willingness to sacrifice that which was most dear to him – his own son. The son he had been waiting for all his life. The son who was the fulfillment of the promise of God and the hope of his future. But God meant more to him than even Isaac. God meant more to him than even Ishmael. God meant more to him than anything else. And he proved it with his actions.

Devotion in action

It's easy to say we're devoted to God. It's another thing to live it out. But devotion is the key to godly character. If we are not truly devoted to God, we will not live for Him. We will not make Him first in our lives. Instead, we will allow all kinds of things to take precedence and priority over Him – even good things like our kids, marriage, career, or ministry. We will say we are devoted to God, but live with a host of other things that hold a higher place in our hearts and minds. God will ask us to sacrifice them, to let go of them, in order to prove our devotion to Him, but we will tend to hold on to them like a dog with a rag. Abraham could have attempted to hold on to Ishmael and Isaac, but instead, he was willing to let them go, because God meant more to him than anything or anyone else. Every day, God is asking you and me to let go of our pride, our self-sufficiency, our reputation, our plans, our finances, our careers, our stuff – all in order to prove that He means more to us than anything else. And when we do He proves Himself to us, by seeing to it that we find all that we ever needed or desired in Him. We discover that God really does provide.

Father, You are the great provider. But so often I place my hopes on other things or other people to provide what only You can. Abraham could have decided not to obey You because he had put all his hope for the future in Isaac. But he knew that You alone could fulfill Your promises to him. He was going to have to trust You. And I want to do the same. I want to grow in my devotion to You and my trust in You. You are the one who sees and provides. Amen

The Foul Fruit of Sin.

Genesis 19-20

Then Abimelech called for Abraham. “What have you done to us?” he demanded. “What crime have I committed that deserves treatment like this, making me and my kingdom guilty of this great sin? No one should ever do what you have done! Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?" Genesis 20:9-10 NLT

In these two chapters we see the continued ramifications of sin in the lives of men. Lot, who had greedily chosen the land near Sodom (Genesis 13:10-11) when given the opportunity by Abraham, had ended up settling right in the city itself. He had become a regular fixture in the community, even sitting at the gate as one of the city leaders. But he had chosen to live and raise his two daughters in an environment that was anything but righteous. All indications are that Lot had retained his belief in Yahweh. He had not taken part in the unrighteous behavior of Sodom. Surprisingly, Peter refers to Lot as a good and righteous man. "But at the same time, God rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a good man who was sick of all the immorality and wickedness around him. Yes, he was a righteous man who was distressed by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day" (2 Peter 2:7-8 NLT). Lot had made a bad decision and found himself living in the midst of extreme sexual perversion. It was so bad, that it even got God's attention so that He sent angels to bring judgment on the city. But rather than move, Lot chose to stay. He had become comfortable living where he was, even though the lifestyles of his fellow Sodomites "distressed" him. He probably thought he could survive unharmed and untainted by all that went on around him. But he had already allowed his daughters to become engaged to two men from Sodom, who both laughed in his face when he tried to warn them to flee the judgment to come. Lot's own wife had fallen in love with Sodom and gazed longingly back at the city when given the chance to escape. The result was her own destruction.

All throughout these chapters you see the sad consequences of disobedience to God. Lot's seemingly innocent decision to live in Sodom was now having dramatic effects on his family. His wife was dead, his daughters' fiances had been destroyed, and he found himself living in a cave. It is there that we see the influence living in Sodom had had on his own daughters. They come up with a plan to keep their family's legacy alive by having sex with their own father. That these two girls should come up with such a plan is shocking, but not surprising when considering the environment in which they were raised. They had seen it all. They had been exposed to some of the most degrading sexual perversions known to man. And it had had an influence on them. The result of their perverted sexual encounter with their own father were two children. One was Moab and the other was Ammon. The descendants of these two boys would be the Moabites and the Ammonites, two nations that would become enemies of the nation of Israel.

Deja Vu All Over Again!

Lot's sins had ramifications. But so did the sin of Abraham. Once again, he resorts to protecting his own hide by putting his wife at risk. He exposes the mother of his future heir-to-be to the sexual advances of the king of Gerar by convincing her to lie and say she is his sister. The king takes her into his harem with the intent of treating her as one of his sex slaves. That Abraham would do this again, after being chastised by God the first time, is amazing. This man of faith still struggled with a lack of faith at times. And had it not been for the protective hand of God, this whole story could have turned out for the worse. But God intervened and warned the king in a dream not to touch Sarah. When the king finds out the truth he confronts Abraham. He is angry and confused. Why would Abraham do this to him? What had he done to Abraham to deserve this kind of treatment? He was innocent and blameless compared to Abraham. And yet, all Abraham could do was give three lame excuses for his actions. But those actions almost had disastrous effects. God was about to bring destruction on an entire nation because of the sin of Abraham.

Sin Is A Cancer

Sin is anything but harmless. How many time have we heard someone say when confronted about their sin, "I'm not hurting anybody else!" We somehow believe that our sin is isolated and has no impact on anyone but ourselves. But these two chapters and the whole of the Bible prove otherwise. Our sin spreads. Like a cancer, it grows and influences those around us. Our decisions have consequences. Our sin produces fruit. Sure, we can be forgiven if we confess. That is a promise of God. But that does not mean our sin will not have an impact on us and those around us. God rescued Lot, but his own daughters had already been soiled by the sinfulness of Sodom. God spared Abraham, but not before an entire nation found that all their women had become barren and unable to conceive because of the judgment of God (Genesis 20:18). Our sins produce fruit. Which should cause us to think long and hard before we commit them. The Scriptures give us a clear picture of what our sins can produce. Our subtle sins can produce serious ramifications.

Father, help me to see the seriousness of my own sin and the negative fruit it produces. I want to learn to stop rationalizing it and justifying it like Abraham did. I want to be able to claim integrity of heart and innocence of hands like Abimelech did. But I know that to do that I have to lean more and more on You and less on myself. I have to grow in my aware of and dependence on You. Amen

Is Anything Too Difficult For God?

Genesis 17-18

Is anything too hard for the LORD? About a year from now, just as I told you, I will return, and Sarah will have a son. Genesis 18:14 NLT

Abram's battle with belief continues. He has been reckoned or counted righteous by God because of his faith, yet he continues to struggle with unbelief. In chapter 17 God reaffirms His covenant with Abram and changes his name to Abraham. God restates the fact that He is going to make Abraham exceedingly fruitful. He is going to bless Abraham with a multitude of descendants. He makes it very clear how He is going to do this. "And I will bless her [Sarah] and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings will be among her descendants!" (Genesis 17:16 NLT). Could God had made it any plainer? Yet Abraham's immediate response is one of doubt. "Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. 'How could I become a father at the age of one hundred?' he wondered. 'Besides, Sarah is ninety; how could she have a baby?'" (Genesis 17:17 NLT). Can you relate to this scene? Abraham is bowing before God as a sign of worship and submission, but inside he is laughing to himself in disbelief. He is questioning the very God he is worshiping. Then he has the audacity to express his disbelief. "And Abraham said to God, 'Yes, may Ishmael enjoy your special blessing!'" (Genesis 17:18 NLT). He had still not let go of his plan B. He couldn't see any other way for God to fulfill his covenant promise than through the son Abraham had had with his wife's servant girl. Isn't that how many of us pray? We come up with our own plan and then ask God to bless it. We determine what we think is the best course of action and ask God to put His Good Housekeeping seal of approval on it. But that's not the way God works. He responds emphatically, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him" (Genesis 17:19 NASB). God had a better plan.

Laughter is contagious, so is doubt

It seems that Abraham's lingering doubt was a family matter. He and Sarah probably had conversations overdinner regarding God's repeated promises of blessing. They most likely discussed their doubts and concerns over God's ability to pull off what He had promised. Because when the three angels of the Lord appear to Abraham confirming God's plan to give them both a son and to announce that Sarah will give birth to that son in just one year,  Sarah laughed to herself. She clearly heard what the Lord said, but then she took a look at her surroundings and concluded: "How could a worn–out woman like me have a baby?...And when my master––my husband––is also so old?" (Genesis 18:12 NLT). God had promised the impossible and improbable. He had overstepped His capacity to deliver. At least in Sarah's mind. Yet even though she expressed these doubts to herself, God knew exactly what she was thinking. He always does. We may be bowing before Him like Abraham did or hiding from Him like Sarah. But He still knows what we are thinking in our hearts. He sees through our mock submission and futile hiddenness. He knows. Remember, He is the God who sees (Genesis 16:13).

God responds to Sarah's doubt, not with anger, but with a question: "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Genesis 18:14 NLT). My mind says, "No!," but my heart wants to say, "Yes!" If I am honest, there are times in my life when I experientally express to God my doubt in His ability to pull certain things off. I fear, worry, experience anxiety, take matters into my own hands, start planning and scheming. In other words, my actions tell God that I do think some things are too hard for Him. But the prophet Jeremiah had a different perspective. "Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You" (Jeremiah 32:17 NASB). In the book of Zechariah, God informs His people that He is going to one day reestablish Jerusalem and return His people there. The people had already returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon and had been given the task of rebuilding the walls, but they had failed to finish. Jerusalem still lay in ruins. The Temple had been destroyed. They were demoralized and defeated. So God responded to them, "This is what the LORD Almighty says: All this may seem impossible to you now, a small and discouraged remnant of God’s people. But do you think this is impossible for me, the LORD Almighty?" (Zechariah 8:6 NLT). The Message puts God's question this way: "Do the problems of returning and rebuilding by just a few survivors seem too much? But is anything too much for me? Not if I have my say."

God will have His say!

Is anything too hard for God? No! God will have His say and His way. He will do what He said He will do. He will accomplish His plan and nothing can stand in His way. God would do exactly what He promised for Abraham. In spite of their disbelief. Thankfully, the promise didn't rest on their faith, but on God's faithfulness. God's promises never fail. He always comes through. He delivers the goods. Yet we still doubt. He has proven Himself faithful time and time again. But we still laugh to ourselves and say, "But can He really pull this off?" May we learn from the lives of Abraham and Sarah and begin to take God at His word. He can be trusted. He will come through. Nothing is too hard for Him!

Father, I want to believe that. Nothing is too hard for You. I want to live it. I want my life to reflect it. I want to respond to the impossible with immovable faith in You. In the face of insurmountable odds, I want to have unshakable faith. You have already proven in my life that nothing is too hard for You, but I still doubt. Thank You for Your patience and grace. Thank You that times of difficulty are your school room for showing Your power in my life and proving Your trustworthiness. Amen

The Best Laid Plans Of Mice and Men Oft Go Awry.

Genesis 16

So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai." Genesis 16:2 NASB

In yesterday's reading we saw Abram attempt to give God an alternate plan by suggesting his servant, Eliezer become his heir. God rejected that plan and assured Abram that he would have a son the old-fashioned way – through his wife Sarai. We are told that Abram believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now we find ourselves in chapter 16 and the issue of God's delayed promise comes up again – this time with Sarai. It has now been 10 years since Abram first arrived in the land of Canaan. He has yet to settle down anywhere. He does not live in a city, but in tents. He has not officially become a landowner in the land that God has promised him. On top of that, he still has a barren wife who isn't getting any younger, and no heir.

Sarai takes notice of this predicament and comes up with her own version of plan B. Now this one has always boggled my mind because Sarai's "solution" sounds so out of character for any normal, red-blooded woman. She decides to let Abram take a second wife! Now what woman in her right mind would ever suggest something like that to her husband? I can see Abram coming up with a plan like that long before Sarai. But it probably reveals her state of mind. She so longs to provide her husband with an heir. In that culture, for a woman to be barren and unable to provide her husband with a male heir, to keep the family name going, was a curse. She was desperate. She probably saw herself as a failure. So she decides to do something about the situation. And Abram agrees to it! That is the crazy part. This man who believed is now more than willing to have sexual relations with his wife's servant girl. And so he does.

From bad to worse

So how did this all work out for Sarai? Well, Hagar gets pregnant immediately. Which was a painful reminder to Sarai of her own barrenness. I have to believe that there is part of Sarai that was even a little put out with her husband that he agreed to this plan to easily. We're told that Sarai despired Hagar. Sarai curses her own husband and blames him for the whole messed up affair (Genesis 16:5). Abram decides to stay out of it all and gives Sarai permission to mistreat Hagar. Which she does. So much so that Hagar takes her newborn son and runs away. Things are really turning out great, aren't they? Sarai and Abram are at odds with each other. Abram's second wife has run away. He has just lost the son who he had intended to be his heir. Hagar is left all alone in the wilderness with a newborn baby and no way of providing for herself. It really does go from bad to worse. But that seems to be the way things work when we come up with our own plan. When we fail to trust God and attempt to play god, we never see it work out well in the long run. Matthew Henry has this to say in his commentary:

When our hearts are too much set upon any creature-comfort, we are easily put upon the use of indirect methods for the obtaining of it. Inordinate desires commonly produce irregular endeavours. If our wishes be not kept in a submission to God’s providence, our pursuits will scarcely be kept under the restraints of his precepts. (2.) It is for want of a firm dependence upon God’s promise, and a patient waiting for God’s time, that we go out of the way of our duty to catch at expected mercy. He that believes does not make haste.

But God sees

It seems from the text that Hagar is headed home to Egypt. But on the way she is visited by the angel of the Lord. He tells her to return and submit to Sarai's authority. That is probably not exactly what Hagar wanted to hear. It didn't sound like good advice. But it was godly advice! The angel also assures Hagar that she is going to have more descendants than she could ever count. In other words, God is going to bless her. She is told to name her son Ishmael, which means "God hears." God had heard her cries for help. He had heard the abuse hurled at her by Sarai. He heard and He responded. Hagar's response was a simple, yet profound statement: "You are a God who sees." The New Living Translation puts it this way: "Thereafter, Hagar referred to the LORD, who had spoken to her, as 'the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have seen the One who sees me!'"

In the midst of all her sorrow and pain, God saw her. And she got to see Him. That's the way God works. He wants to reveal Himself in those dark moments of pain and sorrow. He wants to reveal Himself to us when our plans fail or when the plans others make for us prove faulty. God sees, but more importantly, He wants to be seen. He wants our eyes to focus on Him. He wants us to perceive Him and know that He is there – even when things look bleak. In spite of Sarai's less-than-perfect plan, God was watching. He was aware and He cared. He saw and He acted. He is the God who sees. Do you see Him at work in your life? Do you see Him in the middle of your circumstances? Is He asking you to stay right where you are, instead of trying to run away from your situation? Is He asking you to trust Him? He is the God who sees. And He wants you and I to see Him work His will according to His power in the midst of our worst situations.

Father, You always see me. But I sometimes fail to see You. I don't see You, even though You are right there beside me. I fail to see Your hand in my circumstances. I fail to hear Your voice speaking to me in my pain. Open my eyes so that like Hagar I can say, "I have seen the One who sees me!" Amen

Promise Without Compromise.

Genesis 14-15

Then the LORD said to him, "No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own to inherit everything I am giving you." Genesis 15:4 NLT

Have you ever felt like God could use your help? Sounds ridiculous, I know, but the truth is, we've all stepped in at one time or another to give God a hand. Just think about it, God has promised us abundant life through His Son, but we somehow feel like our life is not quite as abundant as we would like it. So we step in to help give the abundant quotient a boost. God has promised to give us joy, but we somehow feel like we could use a little more joy, which we tie to pleasure and happiness. So we surround ourselves with an endless array of entertainment options.

Time and time again, we step in to help God fulfill His promises to us. And that's exactly what Abram was tempted to do. God had promised to give Abram an abundance of descendants. But there was a slight problem: Abram was old and his wife was barren. Not a good combination when it comes to being fruitful and filling the earth. So Abram decided to approach God with an alternate plan. He wasn't doubting God's promise. He was just trying to help God get past the roadblock of Sarai'sinfertility and his advanced age. Abram's logic was flawless. "But Abram replied, 'O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since I don’t have a son, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no children, so one of my servants will have to be my heir'" (Genesis 15:2-3 NLT). Abram saw a solution to the problem. It wasn't ideal, but at least it was a move in the right direction. It would fulfill God's promise and accomplish the objective.

There is no plan B

But God had other plans. His own. "Then the LORD said to him, 'No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own to inherit everything I am giving you.' Then the LORD brought Abram outside beneath the night sky and told him, 'Look up into the heavens and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that––too many to count!'" (Genesis 15:4-5 NLT). God didn't need Abram's advice or help. He had a plan and He was going to work that plan. It really didn't matter how things looked to Abram. God was not limited by Abram's lack of vision. He was going to fulfill His plan His way. And only He would receive the glory. Our plan B is always a poor substitute for God's plan A.

Then He Believed!

At this point, Abram was forced to take God at His word. He had to step out in faith and give up his plan for God's. He had to trust what He could not understand or see. He had no way of knowing how God was going to give he and Sarai an offspring in their condition. But he believed anyway. He placed His faith in God to fulfill His promise. In response, "the Lord considered his response of faith as proof of genuine loyalty" (Genesis 15:6 NLT). God counted Abram's faith as righteousness. Not his works, but his faith. Over in the book of Hebrews we are told that "without faith is it impossible to please" God (Hebrews 11:6 NASB). Abram's life was characterized by faith. Sure, there were times he doubted and took matters into his own hands, but the overwhelming characteristic of his life was faith. Hebrews 11 goes on to say, "It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith––for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent. And so did Isaac and Jacob, to whom God gave the same promise. Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. It was by faith that Sarah together with Abraham was able to have a child, even though they were too old and Sarah was barren. Abraham believed that God would keep his promise" (Hebrews 11:8-11 NLT).

Abraham believed that God would keep His promise. Do you? Or are you trying to come up with ways to help God out? When we doubt God, we usually double our efforts to help God out. We get short-sighted, focusing on the immediate, when God is asking us to be future-oriented, trusting Him to fulfill His promise in His time and according to His divine plan.

Father, forgive me for my arrogance for thinking that I could ever help You. But to be honest, sometimes I just panic and take matters into my own hands because I don't see you working. I want things to turn out a certain way, so I step in and muddy up the water. I want to learn to trust you. To live by faith, not by sight. Give me patience to wait on You, because Your plan is always perfect and perfectly timed.  Amen

The Promise Is Not Problem-Free.

Genesis 12-13

And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing. Genesis 12:2 NASB

At the beginning of chapter 12 we have God making His covenant promise to Abram. He calls Abram to leave his homeland and move to a place he had never heard of – all based on a verbal promise. And amazingly, Abram obeyed. He took everything he owned and set out for the land of Canaan. This was an incredible step of faith. He had no idea what was in store for him, but was having to trust in the word of God. God had told him, "I will cause you to become the father of a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and I will make you a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:2-3 NLT). The promise made to Abram included God's blessing and His protection.

But the promise was not without opposition. In verse six we read that "the Canaanite was in the land." No sooner had Abram gotten close to the land God had promised to give him, Abram discovered that it was already occupied. You would have thought that upon his arrival Abram would have found a welcoming committee sent by God. There would have been a clear indication from God that this was the place He had promised. But instead, Abram finds the land occupied by someone else – a formidable foe who would not give up the land easily. So Abram arrives at his destination and all he could do was "pass through the land." He not only journeyed to the land by faith, he would live in it by faith. The promise of God is not without opposition. But rather than complain, Abram erects and altar and worships God.

The promise of God is not without difficulty. Not only is the land occupied, it is going through a severe famine. This land of blessing that God had promised Abram is not exactly fruitful and abundant when he arrives there. Had I been Abram, I would have begun questioning the wisdom and direction of God. Why did You tell me to leave my home for this? Where is all the blessing You promised? How can this be part of Your plan? What did I do to deserve this? I would have had all those questions and more. Because I don't expect the promise of God to come with difficulty. But rather than complain, Abram moves his retinue to Egypt. I don't think this was an act of faithlessness on Abram's part. I think this was God's plan for him – another test of his faith. One he would fail to a certain degree. Because when Abram arrives in Egypt, he begins to fear.

Opposition and difficulty can cause us to improvise. The fact that the land was occupied and going through a severe famine caused Abram to have to move to Egypt temporarily. It was the only way he could feed his family and his flocks. But when he got to Egypt he began to fear and so he took matters into his own hands. He came up with his own scheme. He instructed his wife to lie in order to save his own skin. He improvised and compromised. That's what we do. We follow God and find the way is not easy, so we begin to come up with our own plan – in an effort to make the way a little bit easier. We doubt God and His ability to provide and protect, so we devise a plan of our own. And the outcome is usually less than ideal. Abram's plan led to his wife ending up in Pharaoh's court as one of his concubines. Abram's plan had saved his life, but cost him his wife. So God had to intervene and clean up Abram's mess. Because that is what God does. And the amazing thing is that Abram comes out of it blessed, not cursed. It seems that Pharaoh sent Abram away with even more flocks than when he arrived. At first blush this looks like Abram got rewarded for his efforts. But it would not be long until that blessing became a curse.

The promise is not without conflict. Upon arrival back in the land, Abram finds himself in conflict with his own nephew, Lot. They both had huge herds and we are told that "the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together" (Genesis 13:6 NASB). Abram and Lot were at odds. They were in conflict. So they had to separate. Abram ends up giving Lot his choice of the land and Lot picks the best, which happened to be in the vicinity of Sodom. This would prove to be a bad move on his part. But isn't it amazing that in the midst of the promise of God, Abram finds himself in conflict. Things were not going as smoothly as might be expected. And when we find ourselves in the same situation we begin to doubt God's promise. We begin to question whether we are really in His plan. We don't want or expect the promises of God to come with conflict. But Abram discovered that following God did not exempt him from opposition, difficulty, or conflict. It was all part of the plan.

The promise never stops being the promise. God was not impacted by the opposition, difficulty, or opposition. His promise still stood. He was still in control. Abram was learning to look to God and not his surroundings and circumstances. God was not done. At the end of chapter 13, God restates His promise to Abram again. In spite of the greed of Lot, God was going to give all the land to Abram. In spite of the presence of the Canaanites, the land would one day be occupied by Abram's descendants. In spite of the famine, God would make the land fruitful. Abram was learning to trust the God of the promise. He was learning not to judge based on the circumstances and situations. God's word was trustworthy. The promises of God can be trusted. No matter what we see happening around us. He is faithful and true to His word.

Father, You can be trusted. Your word is true. Your promises never fail. Help me to believe that in spite of all the opposition, difficulty, and conflict I encounter in this life.  Amen