What was the proof that Joseph forgave his brothers?

This post is built on one of the points in Christopher Wright’s sermon, Joseph: The hopeful believer.

The first thirty years of Joseph’s life were quite dramatic. He spent seventeen of them as a pampered son (and detested brother) and the remainder as first a slave then as a prisoner. Humanly speaking, the cause of his misery could be traced back to his brothers. When he first revealed himself to them years after they’d sold him into slavery, he wept over them, kissing and embracing them (Genesis 45:14-15).  Yet seventeen years after that first reconciliation, at their father’s death, we see the brothers wracked with guilt and still fearing retaliation  (Genesis 50:15-18).  Joseph’s response is summarised 50:19-21.

How could the brothers know they were really reconciled? Was it Joseph telling them not to be afraid (v. 19)? No, those could just be words. Was it Joseph pointing to God (v. 20)? Well, he could just be spouting theology. What was it then? It was when Joseph said he would care for them and their children (v. 21).

Some months ago we were studying the topic of forgiveness at Bible study. The leader asked how we could know that we’d forgiven someone. I answered something to the effect of, “When you stop wishing they’d slip on the stairs and fall, or similar thoughts.” Today my answer would be different. Not retaliating—in thought or in deed—is a necessary step, but it isn’t sufficient. True biblical forgiveness also involves doing good to the people who wrong us (as far as is possible).

Joseph promising to care for his brothers and their families was a practical, undeniable demonstration of love in action. He was obeying Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:27-28 centuries in advance. Joseph was also pointing forward to Jesus himself, who called them ‘ brothers’ those who had deserted him less than 72 hours before (John 20:17 and Mark 14:50 respectively). He was pointing forward to the One who died for His enemies (Romans 5:6-10).

In Romans 5:5 Paul tells us that God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. And it is only through that divine love working in us that we can not only refrain from harming those who have hurt us, but also actively seek to do them good. (I’m glad I serve a God who enables me to obey His commands!)


And can it be?

Last Advent, I did a short series here on the blog on the songs of the season. I gained so much from the research I did on those posts that I’m doing a similar series now for Lent. As with last time, I’ll start and close with a hymn by Charles Wesley (purely coincidental then and now!).

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caus’d his pain—
For me who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be,
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Amazing love! how can it be,
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mist’ry all, th’ Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine;
‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore:
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left his Father’s throne above;
So free, so infinite his grace!
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free—
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, with all in him, is mine;
Alive in Him my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I love the sense of amazement that this hymn exudes; Wesley is so taken by the grace so freely offered to a sinner like him—kind of like the apostle Paul now that I think of it.
Going stanza by stanza:

  • The first stanza is full of wonder: a personalised, internalised wonder. The pronouns are all I, me and my, but the hymn writer is thoroughly God-focused.
  • The second stanza builds on the last phrase in 1 Peter 1:12. If it was incomprehensible that God would die for me (stanza 1), how much more incomprehensible is it that God would die?
  • The third stanza echoes Philippians 2:7-8. Lest we forget, the last line of this stanza goes back to the sense of being baffled.
  • Before Christ, Wesley was like a chained prisoner in a dark dungeon. All it took to turn that situation on its head was one ray of light from Christ, and he was set free to follow his liberator.
  • In the last stanza, Wesley appropriates Romans 8:1 and Hebrews 4:16 for himself. Yet he doesn’t lose sight of the reason he could do that: it’s all because of Christ.

Dear Lord, may I never lose my wonder at your lavish grace!

Leviticus 1-7 and the New Testament believer

The first seven chapters of Leviticus are all about the sacrificial system. Many New Testament believers know that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, but is that all we can learn from the divinely-mandated sacrifices? You know I’m going to say “no”, because otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post 🙂

One thing I’d always overlooked is that with the exception of Leviticus 6:8-7:36, these chapters are addressed to the ordinary Israelite (one of my podcast pastors pointed that out). God says to Moses, “say to the Israelites” in 1:1-2; 4:1-2; 5:1; 6:1, 8-9, 24-25; 7:22-23, 28-29. If these instructions were for the regular members of the covenant community then, they must have some significance for the regular members of the covenant community now. Following is some of what I’ve been thinking on:

Sacrifice and worship

Some of the principles of worship then are applicable now:

  • Excellence: the animal offerings were to be without blemish, e.g. 1:3, 10.
  • Spontaneity: the burnt offering (ch. 1), grain offering (ch. 2) and fellowship offering (ch. 3) were voluntary. One of the occasions for a presenting a fellowship offering was when the worshipper wished to express general gratitude to God. (Isn’t that a delightful provision God makes?)
  • Structure: there were rules to be followed, such as what sacrificial  animal to bring and what to do with its various parts. There are still rules to be followed by the New Testament believer, such as the ones Paul lays down  in 1 Corinthians 14.
  • No economic barriers: The type of sacrifice to be made was in some cases porportional to the worshipper’s status and wealth (1:14-17; 5:7-13). Yahweh wouldn’t let that be a hindrance to atonement for sin.
  • Substitution: The worshipper placed their hands on a sacrificial animal, which died instead of the human.

Sacrifice and the Christian

The New Testament writers used metaphors drawn from the Jewish sacrificial system with reference to the Christian.The burnt offering (Leviticus 1) was completely burnt up on the altar, nothing remained. In the same way, the follower of Christ is called to give up their life completely to God:

  • Matthew 10:38, parallel in Luke 9:23-24
  • Galatians 2:20
  • Romans 12:1
  • 1 Peter 2:20–25; 4:12–13; 5:9–10

Additionally, portions of some sacrifices were given to the officiating priest (e.g. Leviticus 2:3, 10). Paul picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 and applies it to the ministers of the New Covenant.

Sacrifice and Christ

The New Testament as a whole helps us understand that the sacrificial system, the tabernacle/temple and the priesthood were all pointers to Christ. The language of sacrifice is used to describe the life and death of Jesus:

  • The Lamb: John 1:29, 36; 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6, 12-13 (and elsewhere in Revelation)
  • The blood: Romans 3:23-25; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:12-14, 21- 22; 10:19, 1 John 1:7, Revelation 1:5
  • A pleasing aroma to God: Ephesians 5:2 (see, for example, Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17)
  • The suffering servant Isaiah 53 is picked up in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23 and John 19

Resources I used

  • Leviticus Lecture 1 by Gordon Wenham (audio and handout available here)
  • Five sermons on Leviticus by Dale Ralph Davis (audio available here, date range is from April-October 2008)
  • HCSB Study Bible

How to figure out your divine calling

How do you find out what God has called you to do? Moses got a burning bush, Isaiah and Ezekiel saw heavenly visions and Saul of Tarsus was blinded. Dramatic stuff. Matthew was at his tax-booth, Zacchaeus was up a tree and Timothy was in a local church when each was called. Not quite as dramatic. Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all.

A church-planting couple in Vancouver has compiled a list of the neat and tidy tips on figuring out your call as well as a list of the messy and ugly confessions that inhibited them from hearing and from following God’s call.

The main points in each list  are summarised below:

Neat and tidy tips Messy and ugly confessions
Natural giftedness and abilities My timing vs. God’s timing
Personal History Pattern of Sin
Tugs at your heart Hiding our Brokenness
Prayer Entitlement
Be faithful Fear
Open doors Lack of prayer
Can’t shake it Limited knowledge
It fits you Counting the Cost and Accepting the Loss
Coincidence Disobedience
Outside confirmation Spiritual warfare

Do read the posts in full!

Exodus: What God teaches us about God

I’d originally planned a V-day post for today, but it was sub-par. Hopefully someone somewhere will appreciate the relief from romance offered below  🙂

What do we learn about the God of the Bible from the book of Exodus?

1. He is a covenant-keeping God

Right at the beginning of Exodus, the writer wants us to know that God’s promise to Abraham of numerous descendants was on track (1:7, 12). We’re then told that God’s concern for the Israelites’ plight stemmed from His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (2:24-25).

2. He is a rescuing and redeeming God

The rescue from Egypt was also part of the promise he’d made to Abraham. Moses points out the utter singularity of this event in Deuteronomy 4:34.

3. He is a God who judges

Why did Yahweh send the plagues on Egypt? Couldn’t He have brought out His people without all that nasty stuff?

When Moses and Aaron first appeared before Pharaoh, the latter had dismissively said, “I do not know the LORD” (5:2). You don’t say such things about God Almighty and get away with it. In the following chapters, the refrain “then _____ will know that I am the LORD” appears 10 times [1].

Thus Pharaoh’s wilful denial of Yahweh as God was the reason for the plagues. The people of Egypt weren’t lily-white either: their idolatry was a denial of Yahweh too. One way of looking at the plagues is that Yahweh was taking on the false gods of Egypt [2].

4. He is a law-giving God

Moses thought that having the law was a wonderful thing (Deuteronomy 4:8). The psalmists thought it was worth singing about (Psalms 19:7-11; 119; 147:19-20).

It’s also important to note that the law is given to an already redeemed people. There are 18 chapters in Exodus before a single command is given. No wonder those ancient Israelites got so excited about the law!

5. He is a God who desires to dwell with His people

The book of Exodus is wonderful reading until you get to chapter 25 or thereabout. From then until the end of the book, with the exception of a few chapters, it’s all about cubits and curtains made of blue, purple and scarlet yarn. Why is so much space given to the building plans of the tabernacle?

Another oft-repeated phrase answers that for us. We find it in Exodus 25:8 and 29:45-46. It pops up in promise form in Leviticus 26:12 and 1 Kings 6:13. The prophets speak of it  a lot, for example in Isaiah 12:6, Ezekiel 37:27, Zechariah 2:10, 8:3.

So what?

All this happened long ago and far away. Why should any of this matter to New Covenant believers?

God rescues, redeems and keeps His covenant: Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, foreshadowed the seed of Abraham who would deliver God’s people from the bondage to sin. The exodus is the great saving work of God that points ahead to the saving work completed in Christ.

But getting out of Egypt is only half the equation; Joshua led the people into the land of promise. We who believe await another Joshua who will lead us into God’s rest (Hebrews 4:8-10). So far, God has a pretty good track record of keeping promises!

God judges: But He always provides an escape route. In the last plague, it was the blood smeared on the lintel and door-posts. Today it is the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19).

God desires to dwell with His people: In the opening chapter of the New Testament, we read that Jesus is “God with us”. At the very end of Matthew’s gospel, He promises to be with His people to the very end (28:20). The apostle Paul pulls a number of OT texts together in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18. Finally, the culmination of God dwelling in the midst of His people is to be found in Revelation 21:3.

Oh my, this post has turned out longer than I expected…

Resources I used:


[1] 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 16, 29; 10:2; 14:4, 18

[2] For example, the plague of blood was directed against the Nile god; the plague of frogs was directed against Heqt/Heket, a goddess with the head of a frog; the plague of darkness was directed against the sun-gods, etc.

Repetition of endearment

That’s just a fancy way of referring to a feature in scripture where names or titles are repeated twice:

Spoken by Spoken to
[Those last three are a little complex. You may want to actually look them up :)]
God the Father, God the Son Abraham, Abraham  (Genesis 22:11)
Jacob, Jacob (Genesis 46:2)
Moses, Moses (Exodus 3:4)
Samuel, Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4, 10)
Martha, Martha (Luke 10:41)
Simon, Simon (Luke 22:31)
Saul, Saul (Acts 9:4)
God the Son Eloi, Eloi (Matthew 27:46)
Humans Lord, Lord (Matthew 7:21-22; Luke 6:46)
David Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33, 19:4)
Elisha Elijah (2 Kings 2:12)
Jehoash, king of Israel Elisha (2 Kings 13:14)

Well, so what? According to Douglas Stuart, the name repetition in Semitic cultures  is a sign of deep, close friendship. So when God calls someone by repeating their name twice, He is conveying His close friendship with that person. Similarly, those who will call Christ “Lord, Lord” are claiming a familiarity which, in the passages above, they have no right to.

I heard a sermon years ago on this name repetition in the Bible, and the preacher pointed out that it is impossible to say a person’s name twice in anger—you’ll probably say it once, perhaps stressing every syllable. I think this comes out best in the cases of Martha, Simon Peter and Saul. In each situation, Christ had good reason to be disappointed or angry. He instead turned those into teaching moments, not only for them but also for all of us who have come afterward. Isn’t it a comfort to know that the Lord is more interested in our instruction than in our castigation?

Job’s cries, answered

Last week, I completed reading through the book of Job. In the New Testament, he is held up as an example of perseverance (James 5:11). I’ll admit I had some trouble seeing that as I read through all the times he expressed his desire to die.

As the book progresses, Job talks less to his friends (who it seems weren’t listening to him anyway) and more to God. He asks lots of questions. He asks for an audience with God (e.g. Job 31:35-37). He gets no answers, and his meeting with God leaves him speechless and repentant (40:3-5, 42:4-6).

I reflected on how much more divine revelation we have than Job and his three friends, and I came up with the following:

What Job said What we know
Job 7:7 – I’ll never see anything good ever again Job 42:10-17 – The Lord restored Job’s fortunes, and the last part of his life was more blessed than the first
Job 19:23 – Oh that my words were recorded! They were, Job. Chapters upon chapters of them!
Job 10:4-5 – God, you’re not human John 1:1, 14 – God became a human and lived among us
Job 9:33-34 – I’d like there to be an arbitrator between me and God 1 Timothy 2:5 – There is only one intermediary between God and men, Jesus Christ the man
Job 24:1 – Why does the Almighty not set time for judgement? 2 Corinthians 5:10 – Every one of us will have to stand before Christ our judge

Job’s story is book-ended by God interacting with His creatures (Satan at the beginning and Job at the end). And that’s what we need to remember: despite God’s apparent silence, He’s still very much involved.

Postscript: Ever heard a sermon series on Job? I highly recommend this 6-part sermon series by Christopher Ash (each message is less than 40 minutes).