January 26, 2009

"The Flow of His-story" - Bible in a Year #04

There is a certain flow to history. The scriptures show how Jesus lived on earth during the "fullness of time" (Gal 4.4) and 2,000 years later His life still defines the ages, whether you use BC or BCE. The time from Abraham to Jesus Christ is one of the most provocative times in history. This period of approximately 2,000 years shows the remarkable beginnings of a remarkable nation. Mr. Halley made an interesting point: Old Testament shows how a man was chosen in order to bring forth a nation, Israel. And the New Testament shows how a nation was formed in order to bring forth a unique man, the Messiah.

The thread that was given to Abraham, the thread of God’s Word, existed long before Abraham. You can follow that thread all the way back to the creation account in Genesis chapter one. The world was created by the Word of God and the Spirit of God, as described in the first few verses. But you can’t neglect the love and grace of God. These aspects of the Creator’s character have also been continuous. Jeremiah 31.3 affirms “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

Ultimately, history is “His-story,” a description of God’s intervention to bring about the ultimate purpose for the world He created. If you could use one word to describe history from God’s perspective what would it be? I believe “redemption” would be a good choice.

I met a guy once, Paul Toohey, who liked to speed read through the entire book of Revelation regularly. He said it gave him fresh perspectives on the book. I've found this to be true as we study together through the Bible in a year at a quick pace. We have a rare opportunity to look at the big picture of what God’s word would say to us. In our study today, we’ll focus on the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We’ll also look at the amazing life of Joseph. We’ll see how each person shows a unique aspect of God’s plan of redemption. We’ll also see the history of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Abraham - Simply Saved

Abraham is a great example of salvation by grace and faith. Eph 2.8, 9 says: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” God spoke to Abraham as the first patriarch, and revealed his Word to him (12.1-3). He was called by God to leave his own flesh and blood, his family, and to begin a new family, a spiritual family. Jesus said “…I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother…” (Mat. 10.34). Following God isn’t always an easy choice, but it’s the best choice. Abraham didn’t know exactly where God would lead him but he trusted God would show him. Abraham’s promised son was miraculously born by the Spirit in old age. Though he made many mistakes, Abraham was saved by faith in God’s word. "…Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Gen 15.6, Gal 3.6). I hope that you also have taken that first step of faith by believing God’s word and surrendering your life to God.

 Isaac and Rebekah – Wed by the Word and the Spirit

Abraham’s son Isaac ends up marrying a young woman Rebekah. The process shows two things:
1. How God’s Word and Spirit prepare Christian couples for marriage. (If you aren’t married – this is a good pre-marriage seminar!)
2. How God’s Word and Spirit prepare the Church for Christ.

1. In Genesis 23.2, we see that Sarah has died and Isaac is feeling pretty lonely, especially since he’s 40 years old and still single! Isaac needs a wife and so Abraham asks his main servant to go out and find a wife (Gen 24.2-4). Notice he makes the servant swear that he will not choose a wife from the pagan Canaanites, but she must be from their own people. He’s very serious and this is good advice! Scripture warns us “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” (II Cor 6.14) Don’t even think about it! As they say in New York, Fuggetaboutit! You got nutn’ in commin, and I mean nutn!!! You need a 100% bonified born again believer! If you are a believer, don’t even start dating a non-believer, no matter how beautiful or handsome! You may fall in love and most likely the one you love will not become a believer. Prov 4.23 says “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”

Notice that Isaac didn’t go out searching for a wife. God brought a wife to him, as He did for Adam. The servant went by a well and prayed as shown in Genesis 24.14. He had a plan – “I'll ask a question… ‘Can you please give me a drink of water?’ And whoever answers ‘Yes and here is some for your camels also’ will be the one…”And as he is still praying Rebekah comes along. Isaac was also near a well and meditating in a field when God brought his wife to him. 24.62-63. The idea is that he was being satisfied in his spirit and soul with God until the time when he would have a wife. In John 4.10, Jesus explained how He satisfies our souls with His living water. Notice there is no courtship at all. It’s very quick marriage. Immediately they become man and wife (24.67). My wife and I had a six month time of communication before marriage, which seemed fast but compared to this it was quite long! The servant that was sent out in this account is a picture of the Holy Spirit. The servant is un-named in this story, but was mentioned earlier as Eliezer in Genesis 15.2. This is like the HS in the NT, who does not draw attention to Himself but always points to Jesus (Jn 15.26). It is the Holy Spirit who helps to bring together a husband and a wife according to God’s will. Is it God’s will that you are married? Some advice is to be patient, wait for God’s timing, pray for God’s guidance and be satisfied spiritually in Him in the mean time. Instead of “searching for the perfect mate,” focus on “becoming the perfect mate!” Grow in God’s word and learn to walk with the Holy Spirit!

The Bride of Christ – by the Word and Spirit

The story of Isaac and Rebekah is also about the spiritual marriage between Christ and His Church. The Church is referred to as “the Bride of Christ” in a few places. In John 3.29, John the Baptist called himself “the friend of the bridegroom” – Jesus is the bridegroom he referred to. Ephesians 5.25-27 says “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious--not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless." This talks about how the Word of God works to prepare a glorious Church as a bride. In Revelation 22.17 it says “…the Spirit and the Bride say come,” talking about the yearning of the Church for Christ to take His bride away. Before marriage, a bride meditates constatntly on the groom and the wedding.

Like the servant whom Abraham sent out, the main purpose of the Holy Spirit today is to gather and prepare a bride for Jesus Christ. The main idea for us is to develop an ever deepening love for God and to become more like Christ. Christ is to be the center of our lives as believers. In the story, the servant explained who his master was, Abraham, and what Abraham’s purpose was (24.34). After hearing, Rebekah was ready to completely trust this servant and leave with him to meet the groom. This is like the gospel. God’s Spirit reveals who God is and what God’s purpose is, then each one of us is invited to come to join in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s important to remember that all of our lives are a preparation process for our ultimate union in heaven with Christ. It will be an incredible wedding feast!

Rebekah’s family wanted her to stay a few days but the servant had a sense of urgency. “Hinder me not” (24.55,56) he said. And they asked her the next morning “Will you go with this man?” and she said “I will go.” (24.58). The scriptures say “now is the day of salvation.” (II cor 6.2). There is a sense of urgency, don’t procrastinate if you have not already decided to follow God. According to Revelation 19.9, the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” the celebration of the marriage of Christ and the Church, is to occur only after Christ comes to claim His bride. This is known as “the rapture of the church” and is described in I Thess 4.17 and Mat 24.40-44. We’re advised to “be ready!” There is nothing to fear in following God, on the contrary, God is lavish in His love and grace. At the first positive response from Rebekah, the servant immediately adorned her with beautiful gold and gifts (24.22). This is a great example of God’s immediate and unconditional grace to us. We don’t need to earn His favor. It also reminds us how the Spirit is makes us beautiful spiritually and gives us spiritual gifts as believers.

Jacob and Esau - the Spirit and the Flesh

After the wedding of Isaac and Rebecca, Rebecca is barren for a while but becomes pregnant after Isaac prays (25.21). Two babies seem to be at war inside of her so she asks God why this was so. God revealed to her that these two babies represent two different nations. Jacob’s children become the nation of Israel while Esau’s become Edom (Gen 36.1). As we’ll see, they also represent the battle between “the flesh and the spirit.” Notice that God revealed to Rebecca that “The elder shall serve the younger,” (25.23) that’s important later in the story.

They are twins, born at the same time, but really don’t look at all alike. The first baby appeared red and hairy, kind of scary for a baby! They named him Esau which means, well… “hairy!” Then the other baby tried to catch his heal so they named him Jacob which means “heal catcher” or “one who supplants.” As they grow we see that Esau becomes a rugged outdoorsman hunting for venison for his father who loves wild “shashlik” barbecue. But Jacob is a “home boy” and a “mama’s boy,” he’s Rebekah’s favorite (25.27,28). It seems that Rebekah explained to Jacob about God’s plan for him to be the leader and so one day he takes advantage of Esau to win his birthright from him. Esau was very hungry and wanted some of Jacob’s baked beans. So Jacob offers him the beans in exchange for his birthright and Esau agrees. (25.31-33). Esau was called a “cunning hunter” (V27) and yet he wasn’t very wise concerning important issues. He was tricked by Jacob because his values were off. He focused on his immediate physical needs more than his expected inheritance. He was controlled by the lusts of the flesh.

Gen 27.1-4. Later, when Isaac was old and blind, Rebekah overhears Isaac’s plan to bless Esau before he dies. He asks Esau to go hunt for meat and prepare it then return. But Rebekah quickly tells Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing. Jacob does not like the idea but agrees and ends up lying to his father. Jacob dresses up like Esau and quickly brings in the venison that his father requested and Isaac does bless him. When Esau returns with his venison he says “now you may eat and bless me.” But his father asked "Who are you?” Esau becomes very angry when he learns what happened and wants to kill Jacob.

28.1 – Isaac blesses Jacob and agrees that Jacob should go away. He sends him with his blessing back to Laban, Rebekah’s brother, so he can find a non-pagan wife.
28.4 – Isaac tells Jacob to pass on the blessing of Abraham to Jacob’s own children.
28.12 – On his journey, Jacob has an encounter with God in a dream. He sees “Jacob’s ladder” and God promises to be with Jacob and fulfill His plan through him unconditionally. This will be encouraging later because Jacob starts to “get into hot water” and needs God’s grace.
29.11 - Jacob arrives and immediately falls in love with Rachel, Laban’s beautiful second daughter and agrees to work 7 years to earn her (V18). Then at the end of 7 years Laban tricks him. He gives him Leah as his wife. He tells Jacob the older daughter must be married first and he agrees to work another 7 years for Rachel (29.27).
29.31 – Because Jacob didn’t love Leah, God allowed her to become pregnant first. Then a race begins to see who will have the most children. Like Sarah, they offered their servants as wives also. This was not God’s perfect will. Jesus pointed out in Matthew 19.4-9, that a man is to have one wife.
Gen 30 – After Joseph is born, Jacob decides to leave Laban and go back to his homeland. Before he meets his brother Esau, he sends many gifts ahead to soften his heart. Esau does forgive him. Though Esau forgives Jacob and they are close again, over time the Edomites, Esau’s descendants, became idol worshipers and frequent enemies of Israel and Judah.
32.24-28 - Jacob, on the other hand, has an interesting encounter with a unique man, an angel it seems. The angel wrestles with him and then he says, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” There are different opinions as to the exact meaning of the name Israel. Some believe it is “prince of God,” others believe “contender with God,” and yet others “governed by God.” Jacob is a fascinating character. He lied to his father in order to steel his brother’s birthright and yet God blessed him. Though he was like this, God refers to Himself over and over as “the God of Jacob” Why? I believe it is because God is a God of grace. These are reasons we liked this name for our own son.

Joseph – Used by the Spirit

Jacob’s favorite son was Joseph. He was used greatly by God but first he was greatly humbled. A.W. Tozer once said: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Because he is favored by his father, his own brothers begin to hate him (37:5-8). As a boy he’s given dreams that show how he will rule over his family. These prophetic dreams no doubt give him encouragement as he faces his trials. His brothers end up hating him so much they conspire to kill him. But instead he spends three days in a pit before they sell him into slavery.

He is eventually bought by the Egyptian official Potiphar and becomes his household servant. His time as a servant humbles Joseph. In his humility, God raises him up. He eventually becomes the house manager. He serves faithfully for about ten years but Potiphar’s wife is determined to seduce him (39:7). One day he flees from her presence and she accuses him of assault. He’s thrown into prison but again he ends up becoming a manager who manages and serves the other prisoners. One day the official baker and cup bearer of the Pharaoh are thrown into jail and each has prophetic dreams. Joseph interprets them exactly and they are fulfilled three days later. But the cup bearer who was released forgets about Joseph’s request to help him and so he stays in prison.

Then one day the Pharaoh has a couple of dreams that none of his magicians can interpret. It is then that the cup bearer remembers Joseph. Joseph ia able to interpret the dreams which foretell seven years of great harvests followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh recognizes there is something special about Joseph and says: "Can we find a man like Joseph, one in whom the Spirit of God is present?" (Gen 41.38, NBT) And so Pharaoh exalts Joseph and gives him the job of a kind of prime-minister over all of Egypt, kind of like Yulia Timoshenko in Ukraine. Joseph manages as the 7 years of crops are stored and as the famine begins. As the famine continues, his brothers come from his hometown to buy grain, but they don’t recognize him. In a very dramatic way Joseph tests his brothers to see if their attitudes had changed. He asks them questions to see if they are sorry for what they did to him. When he sees that they are truly sorry he is so moved he weeps (45.1, 2). Finally, he reveals who he is and then ends up inviting them all to live in Egypt. Pharaoh allows Joseph and all his family to come and live in the land of Goshen, a territory in Egypt that was very fertile and lush (Gen 45.10). in 1989, An Austrian archaeological dig discovered ancient cities near Goshen of a people that settled who were non-Egyptian.

Blessing the 12 Tribes

Just before Jacob dies he blesses his sons prophetically. They will become the 12 tribes of Israel. But interestingly, he blesses Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh (48.13) before he blesses his own sons (49.1). This is the reason why the list of the 12 tribes is confusing sometimes, because Joseph’s sons are more often included in the list than Joseph! The twelve sons of Jacob are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin.

To give a blessing to a son is a powerful tradition. We once tried to help a street orphan in Kiev who ran away from home. After helping him for about a year, he ended up stealing a lot of things from our apartment. Then something amazing happened. In a regular non-Christian bookstore in Kiev I found a Christian book in English regarding a “father’s blessing.” The book was entitled, “The Gift of the Blessing” by Gary Smalley, which I purchased and read. Basically, it talks about needs we have to receive affirmation from our parents and a “family blessing.” The family blessing from Isaac to Jacob (27.27) contained some specific points including: Meaningful touch, a spoken message, attaching “high value” to the one being blessed, the picturing of a special future for the one being blessed and an active commitment to fulfill the blessing.

Then another amazing thing happened, the boy called us weeks later and asked “How are you? Is everything ok?” We answered “yeah, fine!” He asked “Really?” Amazingly he ended up coming over for a visit, probably expecting to be “chewed out.” Instead, he got a long blessing from us. He was pretty shocked to say the least, but also moved emotionally. Hopefully, the seeds that were sown will bear fruit some day. If you have a young son or even daughter you can give a blessing to.

Joseph - The Culmination of Redemption

After their father died, his brothers were afraid that Joseph would then try to take vengeance out on them but in the end Joseph sees the big picture:

“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.” (50.20, NBT)

Joseph saw the bigger picture and his life shows the big picture of the redemption process. At first he is sold into slavery. Paul wrote "...but I am carnal, sold under sin." (Rom 7.14) Showing how we each are born slaves to sin. He is redeemed by Potiphar, and though he has some freedoms, he ends up living in a dark dungeon. As believers, we are are redeemed by faith but still live for now in this dark world. On an unexpected day he is caught up out of the dungeon and transformed. His brothers don't even recognize him. We "shall be caught up" (I thes 4.17) "in a moment...we shall be changed."(I Cor 15.52). He reigns with Pharaoh as royalty. God has made believers spiritual royalty, "...made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 1:6)

Joseph had many things in common with Jesus Christ:

Both were rejected, Jesus by his brothers and Jesus by the Jews
Both were stripped and had robes taken from them.
Both were sold for the price of a slave, Joseph for 20 shekels, Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
Both were subjected to temptation and refused
Both had no mention of sin in their recorded lives
Both were falsely accused
Both were in a “pit” for 3 days
Both brought salvation to many

Why was Joseph so Used by God?

Though he was unjustly treated by his brother, we don’t see him becoming bitter or resentful. Though he spent years as a menial servant or living in a dungeon, this didn’t harden his heart. He simply remained humble towards God and men and wisely did the best he could with what he had. James 4.10 says “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” Sometimes young people think “being cool” is the way to success, but in God’s eyes humility and wisdom offer true success. He was also faithful in small responsibilities which leeds to more opportunites, as Jesus showed. (Luk 19:17). Another important point is his purity, allowing his to be a vessel fit "for the master's use." (2 Timothy 2:19-21)

Psalms 9 - Reasons to Rejoice

Psalm 9 shows David's confidence that God would deliver him. It is reminiscent of Joseph in the pit and in the prison who didn't lose heart. Joseph realized that God uses all situations for good, which means one can praise God under any circumstances!

9.1 "O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works."
9.4 "...For thou hast maintained my right and my cause."
9.12 “He does not forget the cry of the humble.”
9.13 “…You who lift me up from the gates of death.”
9.18 “For the needy shall not always be forgotten;
The expectation of the poor shall not perish forever.”

Proverbs 3:13-18 – “Happy is the man who finds wisdom…”
Length of days, riches and peace…”
Joseph experienced these things.
Joseph seems to have been the wisest of all the people we read about and God blessed him.
Interestingly, the name Joseph means “Let him add” or “God will increase.”

Matthew 13.1-23 – The Parable of the Sower

Seed on the wayside – eaten by birds
Seed on stony places – quick but short life
Seed among thorns – choked to death
Seed on good ground – multiplied greatly

Great multitudes came to hear Jesus (13.2) and after the story, the disciples came close to ask “What’s with the parables?” (13.10) Jesus said the mysteries are not for everyone. Most people aren’t really interested in spiritual truth and this is revealed by people’s attitudes. It seems, only the disciples asked Jesus for the deeper meaning of the parables. We saw this worldly attitude in Esau, who did not esteem his birthright. He only thought about filling his belly. Jesus explained…The seed is “the word of the kingdom” (13.19). Notice how Jesus implies that God’s kingdom grows only by God’s Word, as it is revealed by the Spirit.

The seed on the wayside is the Word of God that is taken from people before they even understand it. Like the people who didn’t care about understanding Jesus’ parable. The seed on stony places is the Word of God in a shallow person who receives it but doesn’t do anything with it. It grows a little but eventually withers away. The seed among thorns is the Word of God that is choked out by worldly cares and distraction, a big problem today. Again, Esau is a good example. He despised God’s promises and simply preferred to gratify himself. And lastly, the seed on good ground is the Word of God that is understood and bears fruit. And so it is good to ask. “Do I have a strong desire to read and understand God’s word?” “Do I really want to have a mature and fruitful spiritual life?”

Abraham held onto God’s Word and covenant promises. Isaac understood the importance of the promises. Jacob realized the importance of God’s promises and wrestled with both man and God to receive them. Esau did not understand the importance of God’s promises and missed out. Joseph held on to God’s promises, as given to him through dreams, and his life was very fruitful.

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Which of the four soils best represents your attitude towards the word of God? Do you hold onto God’s promises and seek to grow in His word? Then you are good ground.

Matthew 14.1-21 – Feeding the Multitude.

The patriarchs emphasized the prayer of blessing for their sons. Before Jesus fed the multitude He simply thanked the Father for the food and blessed it (14.18). With our mouths we can bless or we can curse, we can be thankful or we can complain. The best is to bless and be thankful, it’s powerful! Objective scientific studies have shown that prayer works, like this study in 1999 at this link.


God worked through the patriarchs by His Word, His Spirit and all by His grace. It’s amazing to put their lives together. It’s an example of a believer’s life today. Like Abraham, we’re first saved by grace and faith in God’s word. Then we understand that all of our Christian lives are a preparation for life with Christ in heaven. This was shown in the servant’s preparation of Rebekah for Isaac. We also understand the constant struggle between the flesh and the spirit, even as Esau and Jacob struggled. And in Joseph, we see a humble soul greatly used by God, but we also see the culmination of the whole process of redemption, the future rapture and reign of every believer in the church.

Joseph’s life also shows God's sovereignty in history: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28). You may ask “Can God really use evil people for good?” Look at Hitler, one of the most sinister figures in history. And then consider that without Hitler and WWII, the Jews would not have had a chance to form the nation of Israel as it is today, as prophesied in the Bible. The only reason nations voted in favor of the proposal is because of sympathy. Even so, 13 nations voted against an Israel State in 1948, 10 nations abstained and 33 voted for it.

Before Jesus came on the scene, the meaning of history was more of a mystery. But when Jesus fulfilled prophecy after prophecy with his life, the meaning and flow of history became clear. Ephesians 1.9-12 shows God’s ultimate plan and the flow of all history, “…that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ.” And so the million dollar question is, "Are you in the flow of what God is doing?" One of the main aspects of this flow is the preparation of His people, the church. You can ask yourself “Is the Word of God a priority in my life?” “Do I desire to be led by the Holy Spirit?” Like Rebekah, maybe you have been chosen by God and received the gifts of spiritual gold and a crown of salvation but maybe you haven’t been following His Spirit wholeheartedly. Maybe there are some fleshly “Esau” things in your life? Don’t forfeit your inheritance for a bowl of beans! Maybe its time say what Rebekah was willing to say “I will go!” and commit yourself to God’s purpose for your life, whatever it may be. May the Lord give all of us faith and grace as we pursue His will and high calling for our lives!

BTW - Francis Schaeffer has done a good job of tracing the flow of history from the time of the Roman Empire to the late 20th Century in his epic work “How Should We Then Live?” I highly recommend the DVD set if you are interested in history. The video was made in 1960, so it’s a bit dated, especially since he liked to wear his Swiss knickers, but the truths are just as relevant today as they were then. We have it in English in our library in Simferopol.

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