Seven Days of Devotion
The Nature Within
by Charles R. Swindoll
Read Genesis 45:16--28
Joseph's brothers not only had plenty to eat on the way, but had also been given new clothing. They had all that they needed---and they once again had it in abundance! These men must have really looked like something when they returned to Canaan, a land drying up under those lingering years of famine.
Notice, however, the one directive Joseph gave them: "Don't get into an argument on the journey!" He knew those men, didn't he? I can't help but smile at times in these biblical stories when little tidbits like that are inserted. Centuries may come and go, but human nature stays pretty much the same. It's impossible to erase depravity.
Not very many men can carry a full cup without its disturbing their equilibrium. Sudden wealth or promotion can be a tottering experience, both for the recipient and those surrounding him or her. Superiority, inferiority, arrogance, and jealousy can easily begin to hold sway. If you question that, check on those who win the lottery. Very few can handle the financial windfall.
Joseph had given his brother Benjamin more than he had given to the other brothers. He gave them all provisions and gave each of them new garments, but he gave Benjamin three hundred shekels of silver and five new garments. No doubt Joseph remembered well what had happened years before when he had been given more than the others, but he had his own reasons for giving Benjamin these items. He didn't want that to result in a fight. "So don't argue about it!" he told his brothers.
I think it is safe to say that we are to trust one another, but we are never to trust one another's nature. That's one of the reasons parents give their children the warnings that they do. Parents understand their children's natures better than their offspring do. It's not a question of trust; it's a matter of knowing the nature within.
God in the Move
Yes, old Jacob had learned some hard lessons about what happened when he did not talk with God and walk with God. Therefore, he wanted to be sure that God was in this. This was a big move for all the family. Thankfully, by now, Jacob had matured into a seasoned and wise old man. He stopped and waited, willing to learn whether the move to Egypt would be accompanied by the presence and blessing of God.
It must have been a great moment when, in the night, he was awakened by the voice of God, calling, "Jacob, Jacob."
"Here I am," he replied quietly.
"I am God, the God of your father, Isaac. Don't be afraid to go down to Egypt, for it is there that I will make you a great nation. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will also bring you back to this land again. And your son Joseph will be with you when you die."
This is a major moment not only for Jacob and his family, but for all of Israel. This is an early prophetic reference to Israel's great Exodus from Egypt. Go back and read the Lord's words to Jacob once again. Notice the promise, "I will also surely bring you up [to this land] again."
Making a major move can be one of the most insecure times we face in life. Pulling up roots in one place and trying to put them down in another can be not only fearful but depressing. That's why I think it's wise to pause here and understand the value of Jacob's hearing God's voice of approval. I've known people who have taken years to adjust---and some who simply never adjust. For the Christian this is heightened by a sense of wonder over whether God is in the move. And even when we feel assured that God is in it, we can still experience times of uncertainty and displacement. I'm referring not only to a geographical move but also to a career change or a domestic move from single to married. Big, big changes! The assurance that God is with us during such alterations in lifestyle and adjustment periods is terribly important.
As children of God, we're to listen to the voice of God and ask, Is God in this? Does this please Him?
Read Genesis 46:31-34
Joseph efficiently thought through a plan of operation that would get his family settled. He rehearsed the plan with those who were involved and then, as we will see in a moment, presented the plans to his boss for final approval. Joseph never assumed that he could just go ahead with his plans, despite his high level of authority and responsibility. He always deferred to his employer.
One complaint that I often hear leveled against Christian employees who work for Christian employers is presumption---the expectation of special treatment because they're members of the same spiritual family. They expect certain privileges, higher salaries, or vacation perks or other benefits, not because they have earned or deserve them, but simply because they serve the same Lord. We see no such spirit of entitlement happening with Joseph.
Joseph knew how the Egyptians thought and reacted. He had not only worked with Pharaoh but had thoroughly studied and observed the man and his people. That explains why he warned his brothers, "Look, shepherds are loathsome to these people. You're not in Canaan anymore, you're in Egypt. And when you're in Egypt, you have to think like an Egyptian. So I want you to tell Pharaoh that you are keepers of livestock." This was the truth. He wasn't asking them to lie, but to avoid using a word or concept---shepherd---that was repugnant to Pharaoh and his people.
Joseph settled his family in the choicest part of the land of Egypt, in an area located in the fertile Nile Delta, as Pharaoh had ordered him to do.
Do you serve under someone else's authority? Obviously, most of us do. How's your spirit, your attitude, toward that person to whom you answer? Having the right attitude or spirit of cooperation can be especially tough if the person to whom you answer is a difficult individual or an incompetent leader, one whose weaknesses you know all too well. This is not only a test of your personal loyalty, but a test of your emotional maturity.
The Test of Integrity
Read Genesis 47:18--25
The people came to Joseph with their hands empty and open, and he responded by upholding their dignity and treating them with respect. And keep in mind, he had everything, but they had nothing. "Our money is gone! Our food is gone!" They were completely at Joseph's mercy.
He didn't shrug his shoulders and give them a handout. He didn't put them on welfare. Instead, he told them to bring him what they had---their livestock---and in exchange he would give them food.
A year later, with the famine still going strong, all of their livestock were gone, and they were back on their knees with their hands empty and open, saying, "Help us, Joseph. What do we do now? Buy our land for food. Buy us---we will serve Pharaoh. Only help us get through these awful years." In their desperation, they put themselves entirely at Joseph's mercy.
What is striking is that Joseph did not abuse that power---not once! God had raised him up from slavery, and he never forgot how marvelous a deliverance that was. To whom much has been given, much is required.
Arthur Gordon, writing for a national periodical, says this about the importance of personal integrity:
Year after year businessmen study college records, screen applicants, and offer special inducement to proven people. What are they after, really? Brains? Energy? Know-how? These things are desirable, sure. But they will carry a person only so far. If he is to move to the top and be entrusted with command decisions, there must be a plus factor, something that takes mere ability and doubles or trebles its effectiveness. To describe this magic characteristic there is only one word: integrity.¹
Integrity keeps your eyes on your own paper during the test. Integrity makes you record and submit only true figures on your expense account. Integrity keeps your personal life pure and straight. Integrity restrains us from taking unfair advantage of others.
Because Joseph had been a special son to Jacob, Joseph's sons were special to their grandfather as well. The NIV study notes on this portion of the text state that Jacob, at his death, adopted Joseph's first two children as his own and in doing that divided Joseph's inheritance in the land of Canaan between them. "Joseph's first two sons would enjoy equal status with Jacob's first two sons [Reuben and Simeon] and in fact would eventually supersede them. Because of an earlier sinful act, Reuben would lose his birthright to Jacob's favorite son, Joseph, and thus to Joseph's sons."
All of this becomes greatly significant later in the history of the nation of Israel, and it makes this last scene with Jacob and his grandsons extremely important.
Perhaps it is my own practical nature, but I see something of great value for us here also. It has to do with how and where Jacob died in contrast to how and where we die. Jacob died on his own bed, at home. Rarely does that occur today. We have fallen upon strange times. Birth has become more and more of a family affair, often with the entire family being present in the "birth suite" when the baby is born. Wonderful change from the way things used to be! On the other hand, death has become relegated more and more to the cold and sometimes uncaring comfort of professionals and the sterile environment of a busy hospital and, later, the funeral home or graveside chapel. Only in recent years have we begun to see the hospice movement growing, where people are allowed to spend their last days at home with those they love alongside to support them and encourage them in their final earthly journey.
Joseph's sons were with their grandfather as he approached those final moments. They felt his hand on their foreheads and heard his tender, wise words of blessing. "May God bless the nation as He blesses you." What a moment! Perhaps Manasseh and Ephraim were kneeling beside their granddad. What a lasting impact for good on the lives of those two young men!
Those Final Moments
Read Genesis 49:1--33
Despite his age and infirmity, Jacob's memory was nothing short of remarkable. He could name each one of his boys, and he could describe their individual natures and recall with pertinent detail the lives they had lived. Although he had not always disciplined them appropriately or wisely, he knew his sons well. No doubt the Lord assisted at this touching moment of his life by providing the prophetic insight passed on by this aging father. From the firstborn, Reuben, through the youngest, Benjamin, Jacob blessed not only his sons, but the twelve tribes that would descend from them.
After this, Jacob gave them specific instructions about where he was to be buried, in keeping with the promise Joseph had made to him earlier. And then, this beautiful statement: "When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people" (Genesis 49:33).
Those who have eternal hope, though grieving over the instant loss death brings and the painful absence that follows, must remember and will be comforted by the realization that when the believer is taken from this life, he or she is gathered into the place of the saints. As it says, Jacob was "gathered to his people." Absent from the body, face to face with the Lord. How simple yet how sacred the moment. With one quiet and final sigh, the old patriarch joined those eternal ranks.
John Donne, seventeenth-century English poet, was not only one of that country's great poets but also one of her most celebrated preachers. He wrote eloquently about death:
All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated. God emploies several translators: some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another.
God translates the life of an individual after death, and only then can we measure the significance of that life.
Led by Grace
Read Genesis 50:1--21
"Am I in God's place?" Joseph asked them. Had he been a lesser man, he could have played "king of the mountain" and filled the role of God. "Grace killers" do that sort of thing. They exploit the power they have over others. They play a cruel and unfair game when they have someone cornered, someone who is vulnerable and at their mercy.
Joseph refused to do that. He didn't do it earlier at their reunion, and he doesn't do it now. In his obedience to God, he was restrained by feelings of tender mercy as he communicated God's grace. "Am I in God's place?" he asked his brothers, saying, in effect, "Brothers, listen to me. Let's get this cleared up for the last time. I know what you did, and I know what you meant by it. I know you meant to do me evil. Okay? I understand all that. That was your plan. But God had other plans, and He turned the results of your evil intentions into something good. At one time I did not understand all this, but that time is long past. Get this straight---God meant it all for good." Joseph never stood taller than at this moment in his life. As Churchill would say, it was his "finest hour."
Guard your heart when you have the power to place guilt on someone else. Refuse to rub their nose in the mess they've made. Remember the father of the Prodigal Son. Best of all, remember Joseph. "Don't be afraid," he comforted them kindly. "I will provide for you and your children."
I love the words of George Robinson's timeless hymn: "Led by grace that love to know."¹ It is especially pertinent here, because it so beautifully describes Joseph, who, like Christ, had a love that would not cease.
Joseph was led by grace. He spoke by grace. He forgave by grace. He forgot by grace. He loved by grace. He remembered by grace. He provided by grace. Because of grace, when his brothers bowed before him in fear, he could say, "Get on your feet! God meant it all for good."
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