A Worship Service for an Icy Morning

I thought that, since we were not able to have worship service this morning, I thought I would send out an order of service for what was to have been our worship service this morning. Since we were starting the New Testament portion of The Story this morning and focusing on the accounts of the birth of Christ, we had planned a “Lessons and Carols” type service that was designed to help us tie together how the incarnation of Christ is part of the continuing story of God’s redemptive work in Creation. I hope that this order will provide a meaningful devotional tool for you and/or your family today. Please feel free to pass this along to whomever you like. And please excuse any ads in the links below – the downfall of YouTube!

Announcements
– Thanks to everyone for making our Pancake Lunch and Cake Walk a huge success last Sunday! It looks like our youth and children raised over $800 for their Summer Passport trips.

– I am going to say with confidence that we WILL have our Wednesday Night programs this week. The dinner is fried pork chops, stewed potatoes, broccoli and cheese, rolls, cherry cobbler, and tea and lemonade. If you would like to make a reservation for Wednesday Night Supper, please call the church office or email Melonie at melonie@tbcdurham.org by noon on Monday. You can also visit the following link to make your reservation for dinner from your home computer (you may need to copy and paste the link into your browser. It is a long one!):
https://secure.accessacs.com/access/eventlogin.aspx?id=yNV0CevFQ1a1sGoqJbIp9A==&site=94226&ReturnUrl=events%2fwz_people.aspx&ChurchID=6070&EventID=83468&sn=94226

– Church Council will meet Wednesday night at 7:30 PM in the Assembly Room

– The Adventurous Eaters will be going to Thai Cafe on Monday, March 9. They will meet at the church at 5:30 to carpool or you can meet them at the restaurant at 6 PM. You can reserve your spot using the following link:
https://secure.accessacs.com/access/eventlogin.aspx?id=iHpTbPztdYdUK+EjL7c5nQ==&site=94226&ReturnUrl=events%2fwz_people.aspx&ChurchID=6070&EventID=83125&sn=94226

The story of the birth of Jesus is often associated with a specific time of year. As a matter of fact, we often call these stories the “Christmas stories”. However, the incarnation is an event that has relevance and significance beyond the holiday we have associated with it. We hope this worship experience will help you reflect on what it means for us believe every day that “The Word became flesh and lived among us”.
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-4 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292222699
Musical Reflection: “Morning Has Broken” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYcVGrSdmao

Scripture Reading: Genesis 12:1-3 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292222741
Choral Worship: “Pass It On” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTQAxgAJmpk

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-17 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292222973
Hymn of Praise: “Great is the Lord” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdqfAkHCZnA

Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-10 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292223120
Prayers of the People – Take time to pray for those who you know are in need of God’s healing and salvation

Scripture Reading: 1 Chronicles 17:1-14 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292223217
Hymn of Praise: “Praise to the Lord the Almighty – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEh7Vt9sxmc

Offertory Prayer
God, we pray that you would use our gifts and talents for your glory. You have given all of yourself to us in Jesus Christ. May we give all of our bodies, souls and minds to you. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Offertory: Thank You God for Saving Me – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pssz5HH7Cp8

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292223669
Choral Worship: “God of This City” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGkEE5dwmdY

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292223824
Choral Worship: “At the Name of Jesus” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO_R3U3TE6w

Scripture Reading: John 1:1-18 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292224097

Sermon

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us …”.
Perhaps no words of Scripture have been more defining or disturbing than these 9 words from John’s gospel. The belief that Jesus is God in human flesh has served as one of the foundational markers of apostolic Christianity. That is why the early creeds of the Christian church go to such lengths to affirm and shape our understanding of what these 9 words are saying. The Nicene-Constantinople Creed, adopted in 381 A.D., expands these 9 words of John into one of the longest run-on sentences in history. “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through Whom all things came into being, Who for us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human.”
Such a statement makes us appreciate the simplicity of John: And the Word became flesh and lived among us. Yet, the complexity of the creedal statement reveals to us a history of conflict and debate, violent even at times. John’s 9 simple words would become not only the foundation of Christian faith but also the spark of several heretical movements within the early church. The doctrine of the Trinity, our understanding of salvation, our interpretation of the entirety of Scripture – all of these things rest on these 9 words, which is why the Council of Constantinople went to such lengths to try to give definition to what John meant.
We are not here today to define a new creed. We are not an ecumenical church council charged with determining the theological foundations of Christianity. However, as disciples of Christ, charged with the task of preparing and presenting a testimony to the world, our challenge here this morning is no less daunting or significant. Just as the bishops gathered at Constantinople in 381, we here at Temple Baptist Church on Sunday, March 1, 2015 are confronted with the question of incarnation: What does it mean, what does it matter, that we proclaim of Jesus that “the Word became flesh and lived among us”? I would like to propose several answers for your prayerful consideration this morning.
Incarnation inspires awe and worship. By definition, incarnation confounds logic and reason. How can one be both at the same time fully human and fully divine? The Scriptures are not concerned with providing us the technical nuts and bolts of how incarnation works. For centuries, there are those who argued that such an existence is irrational. However, as one theologian has pointed out, the incarnation is irrational only if we assume that we have a full understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to be divine. Perhaps the incarnation of Jesus the Christ is, in part, a direct challenge to such assumptions, a reminder that there is much about God’s work in creation that we still don’t understand. That God can still stump and confound us is an invitation to consider God’s wonder and mystery and an invitation to worship rather than just understand God.
Incarnation brings unity to the story of God and man. It is tempting to sometimes think of the gospel message of Jesus as more than just a new chapter in the working out of God’s will. We are sometimes tempted to see, in Jesus, a whole new book with a completely different story from that of the “God of the Old Testament”. However, incarnation teaches us that, in Jesus, we meet the God of Creation, of Abraham and Moses and Elijah, the God of the Exodus and the exile. For centuries, Jesus’ entry into the world was understood as a sign of the new covenant that the prophet Jeremiah had talked about. Yet, even Jeremiah understood that this new covenant was a continuing revelation of God’s ongoing redeeming work in creation that had begun at the fall of mankind. Jesus himself says in Matthew that he is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets, not the replacement. Incarnation teaches us that we are dealing with the one God of history.
Incarnation forces us to consider God in the now. It is easy sometimes to relegate God to his heavenly courts, looking down over the grand span of time and space from some space over and above everything that takes place. Yet, the incarnation of the Son of God teaches us that God is concerned about the immediate details of human life. Jesus not only taught about the kingdom of heaven and fought the powers of demons. He fed hungry people who hadn’t brought lunch to hear him speak. He showed fishermen where to cast their nets so they could catch fish. He changed water to wine so that the wedding reception didn’t end too early. We should remember such stories the next time we tell ourselves that God has more important problems to deal with than ours. The incarnation of Jesus is the reminder that God loves us enough to deal with the everyday stresses and struggles and joys of life. In the incarnation, we understand that God cares us as much about our immediate life as He does our eternal life.
Incarnation gives shape and depth to a righteous life. Yesterday I was back in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia to attend a funeral officiated by Rev. Larry Sprouse, the senior pastor I served under right out of seminary. Being back in that church, listening to Larry celebrate the life of a friend and peer of ours, I realized what a gift I had been given in the four years I served alongside Larry. Seminary was where I attended the lectures and read the books about how to be a pastor. However, I don’t think I really understood what I heard until I had the chance to watch Larry be a pastor. In the same way, we have read so far numerous instructions and commandments and promises that God spoke to Israel and to Creation. However, in Jesus, the Word made flesh, we not only come to understand those words deeper but we are given the chance to see those words lived out.
Incarnation commissions us. John says of the incarnate Son of God, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” When we talk about Jesus, we are not talking about someone who is only a piece of God. We are not talking about someone who only possessed some of God’s attributes or character. In Jesus, God has held nothing of Himself back from us. The immediate follow up question is: what have we done with the abundance of grace we have received?
Earlier this week, I was talking with a man of Lebanese descent who my family and I have begun to build a relationship with. We were discussing a series of robberies that had taken place in our area in recent months. He asked me what my feelings are on carrying firearms. He showed me the pistol and magazine that he now kept with him. He said between the crime in his neighborhood and the number of recent attacks on Muslims and Arabs right in our own country, he felt he needed security. His words struck me hard. I had never considered that he might walk around every day looking over his shoulder, wondering if someone was hunting him. But then I remembered all the kindness he had extended to me and to my family, the graciousness with which he always welcomed us. I found myself telling him thank you for such kindness, that I hoped he knew that we appreciated him and I was sorry he had to live with such worry. He offered me his hand and said, “there are some people that you look at and you get around and you just know they have a good spirit.” I took his words as a compliment, but also a challenge. In the incarnation of Christ, God has given the fullness of His grace to me, therefore I must live out the fullness of his grace for others. That is the first step to breaking down the walls of fear and hatred that separates man from man and keeps us from working together for the kingdom will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This morning, we have heard the Word of God proclaimed. In Jesus, the Word became flesh and lived among us. As we prepare to go forth, what we will we do with this Word, this Jesus, we have received?

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:41-51 – http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=292224324

Hymn of Response: “O Word of God Incarnate” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX7m8LiyI7w

Blessing on Grant Mangum
One of our own, Grant Mangum, will be leaving within the next week to travel to Turkey as a part of a mission team from NC State. As Grant prepares to leave, we want to place our blessing upon him and ask that God would use Grant as the rest of his team to share the love and grace of Jesus Christ with all they come in contact with. We also want to pray for Grant’s family as they support Grant in this mission. Perhaps this week you will want to reach out to Grant or his family and share your prayers of support.
May God bless you and make His face to shine upon you. Go in peace!

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Week 19 – The Return Home

Scripture Reading: Ezra 1-6; Haggai 1-2; Zechariah 1,8

Significant Moments in The Story
King Cyrus of Persia decrees Israelites can return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple – Ezra 1
The altar and Temple foundations are rebuilt – Ezra 3
The rebuilding of the Temple ceases in face of opposition – Ezra 4
The rebuilding process is resumed and completed – Ezra 6

Key Themes

Living in a new reality

The end of the exile in Babylon and the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem was a moment of joy and celebration to be sure, one that some perhaps believed they would never see.  However, those who returned are faced with the harsh reality that life in Israel will not be easy.  There will be rivalries with those peoples that now live in the surrounding region.  They are charged with not only rebuilding buildings but a nation and all that entails.  In addition, they have to rebuild the religious life of Israel, which during the exile has taken on a different appearance from before the exile.  This is perhaps marked best by the account of the laying of the foundations of the new Temple in Ezra 3.  The new Temple will be a smaller and less ornate structure from the one Solomon built.  This is a combination of factors, including fewer resources and a greater emphasis on the Temple as a house of prayer.  Some would see the beginning of the rebuilding of the Temple as a reason to celebrate, but some would see the outlines of what was to come as cause to lament what had been lost and what was different.  These accounts challenge us to consider how we confront theologically and faithfully those moments in life when we are forced to live by new realities that are not necessarily of our making or choosing.

Finish what you start

In Ezra 4, we are told that the rebuilding process of the Temple stops for a time due to pressure exerted on the Persian emperor by the neighboring peoples.  In response, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah rise up to encourage the people to take up the task of rebuilding the Temple.  Their messages shed light on another reality:  the struggle to run with perseverance the race that is before us until we reach its finish.  Challenges externally and internally rise up to pull the Israelites away from the task of rebuilding the Temple, just as we often are distracted from our work by external pressures and internal fears or desires.  The prophets encourage the people see to completion the work they had begun in God’s name.

 

Background Information

“… in order that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished …” – Ezra 1:1

In Jeremiah 29:10, as part of his letter to those who are already in exile in Babylon, Jeremiah says, “For thus says the LORD:  Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”

Cyrus orders the Temple to be rebuilt – Ezra 1:2-4

Cyrus was known to be interested in restoring local temples.  It should be noted that his understanding of God is that he is the God of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:3).

“Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do …” – Ezra 4:2

After the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel and carried the people off into exile, they resettled the land with peoples from other conquered nations.  Eventually, these peoples began to worship Yahweh, but they also worshiped other gods that they brought with them.  This synthesis of religious beliefs and the mixing of other nations into the land of the north would lead those who had returned from exile in Babylon to identify themselves as the only true Israel.  They refuse the offer of help, believing that permission to rebuild the Temple was given exclusively to them by King Cyrus.  In response, the “people of the land” would seek to stop both the rebuilding of the Temple and the wall around Jerusalem to keep the returned exiles vulnerable.

This history is the root of the Jewish-Samaritan animosity that will be evident during the time of Jesus.

Haggai

The prophet Haggai’s career was relatively short, spanning from August to December of the year 520 B.C.  Haggai’s primary focus was to call the people to finish the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Haggai 2:10-19 is believed to be a speech that Haggai made on the day that the cornerstone of the foundation was laid.  In this speech, Haggai marks the importance of beginning the work of rebuilding the Temple.  Haggai explains that the beginning of the work marks a turn of Israel away from guilt and abandonment of God to a time of blessing and restored relationship.

As part of that time of blessing, Haggai envisions a restored monarchy with Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah who led the rebuilding effort, as God’s chosen one to be king (Haggai 2:20-23).  This passage reminds us that the returned exiles not only were struggling with rebuilding buildings but trying to determine what would be the best order of rule and governing themselves.  Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai, will have a slightly different idea.

Zechariah

Zechariah’s prophetic ministry seems to have spanned about 2 years.  Like Haggai, Zechariah portrays the effort of rebuilding the Temple as a turn in Israel’s relationship with God (Zechariah 8:9-13).  However, though there is much that Zechariah and Haggai share in unison, Zechariah’s message does take a unique shape.

For one, Zechariah envisions that, in the new day of God’s blessing, the high priest will be the king of the people, specifically Joshua (Zechariah 6:9-13).  There seems to be some indication of two rulers sharing power (Zechariah 6:13), leading some to wonder if originally Zechariah envisioned Zerubbabel crowned king, sharing power with the high priest Joshua.  Whatever the case, Zechariah’s description of governance in the new day of blessing is different from the one described by Haggai.

Zechariah’s message also includes an atmosphere of welcoming of other nations (Zechariah 8:20-23).  This will present an interesting contrast to the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah that we will look at next week.

 

Week 17 – The Kingdoms’ Fall

Scripture Reading:  2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 33; 2 Kings 23-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 1-2, 4-5, 13, 21; Lamentations 1-3, 5; Ezekiel 1-2, 6-7, 36-37

Significant Moments in The Story

The reign of Manasseh – 2 Kings 21, 2 Chronicles 33

Josiah’s reforms – 2 Kings 22-23

The fall of Jerusalem and the first deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 24

Jerusalem utterly destroyed and the final deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36

Key Themes

Worse than the Canaanites

The 55 year reign of King Manasseh in Judah is viewed as perhaps the darkest moment in Judah’s history.  According to 2 Chronicles 33:9, under Manasseh the Israelites “… did more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the people of Israel.”  In Joshua, God had said that part of the reason He was giving the Promised Land to the Israelites was because of the wickedness of the people who had lived in the land up until that point.  Now, Israel has become even more wicked than those they took the land over for.  The Biblical narrative paints a very dark picture of how deep Israel’s sin is, so deep that not even the righteous reforms of Josiah can make a difference in the long term.  The destruction of Jerusalem and Judah is thus portrayed as a punishment consistent with that which God had handed down on the peoples who inhabited the land before the Israelites.

Exile, a time of lament and a time of hope

The Babylonian exile was as transformative a moment in Israel’s history as the Exodus.  However, whereas the Exodus was a moment of celebration and victory, exile would be a moment of great pain and suffering.  That pain would be physical (great loss of life and destruction of poverty), emotional (great sorrow among all the people), and spiritual (a feeling of being cut off from God).  The words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the two primary prophets associated with this period, contain both messages of the harshness of Israel’s plight and the hope that did remain even in the face of great suffering.  In many ways, the exile takes place within the shadow of the Exodus – God will not allow His people to remain in captivity to this foreign nation.

Background Information

Josiah’s reform – 2 Kings 22-23

Josiah was the grandson of King Manasseh, the worst of the kings to sit on the throne of Judah according to Scripture.  In 2 Kings 22, we are told that a rebuilding and restoration of the Temple is under way under King Josiah’s reign.  During the work, “the book of the law” is found, probably a copy of the book of Deuteronomy.  This is brought before King Josiah and read.  According to 2 Kings 22, Josiah’s weeps as the book is read, which calls for curses to be upon Israel if they are unwilling to follow all the commands of God.  This instigates the reforms that Josiah carries out in 2 Kings 23.  Interestingly enough, the “reward” for Josiah’s repentance and his efforts to restore obedience in righteousness is that he will not be alive when the curses that are coming take place.

The exile to Babylon

The fall of Jerusalem and Judah took place in stages.  We believe that the date of the events of 2 Kings 24 take place around 597 BC.  At this time, much of the wealth within the Temple was carried off and most of the royal officers and military leaders were carried into exile.  Those that remained in Judah were ruled over by Zedekiah, the uncle of King Jehoiachin who was appointed to rule as a governor of the King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Eventually Zedekiah revolted against the Babylonians, bringing a follow up attack on Judah in 587 BC, which resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the remaining inhabitants carried off into exile.

 

General Introduction to Each Book

 The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel deal with roughly the same time period, namely the time before and after the fall of Jerusalem. While Jeremiah remains in Jerusalem until the final fall of Jerusalem in 587/6, Ezekiel seems to have gone into exile after the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 597.

 

1) Jeremiah

 

  • Literature of Trauma
    • The structure of the book is disjointed and difficult to discern
      • One scholar has suggested that this reflects the fracturing of memory that results from trauma
    • Lots of emotions! Jeremiah laments and complains, as do God and the people
    • The book does not offer one clear explanation of why the exile happened but instead tries out several explanations
  • Form of Jeremiah
    • The book of Jeremiah developed over time; it has been added to by different people and communities as an ongoing reflection on the exile
  • The prophetic persona
    • The book of Jeremiah is unusual for its amount of attention to Jeremiah himself. The book includes biographical prose sections as well as autobiographical laments and poetry.

 

2) Ezekiel

 

  • In contrast to Jeremiah, Ezekiel has a clear literary structure (1-24, 25-32 and 33-48) and seems to have been created as a unified book
  • Ezekiel is a very different prophet than Jeremiah; whereas Jeremiah shows lots of emotions, Ezekiel shows next to none
  • The book includes a lot of sign acts and fantastical visions
    • Sign acts (which also appear in Jeremiah) are times when God commands the prophet to do something, then explains the meaning of the action (for example, Ezekiel paints Jerusalem on the side of a brick, then destroys the brick)
    • Visions: Ezekiel’s visions include wheels with eyes, living creatures with many faces, and lots of lightening. Though strange to us, Ezekiel uses visions to interpret history in light of God’s glory
    • Ezekiel also has a long vision that focuses on the restoration of the temple that should put you in mind of the description of the tabernacle in Exodus

 

 

 

Questions to consider for study of Jeremiah 18:

 

Who are the characters?

What is the setting?

Who says what?

Are there clear units in the writing? How would you break it up?

Can you see any repeated words or themes?

Does this passage call to mind other parts of the Book of Jeremiah?

What questions do you have about the passage?

 

Jeremiah 18:1-12

 

  1. The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2. “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3. So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
  2. Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6. Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LO RD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8. but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10. but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. 12. But they say, “It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”

Week 16 – The Beginning of the End

Isaiah

Breakdown

1-39 Pre-exilic

First Isaiah (Isaiah’s prophetic ministry, God’s judgment of Judah)

40-55/56-66 Post-exilic

Second/Third Isaiah (Eschatological hope, Messiah)

Major Themes

 

Prophetic Witness

  • Call (Is. 6)
  • Life (7-8, 20…See also 1 Kings 16)
  • Proclamation against injustice

God’s judgment of Judah (Isaiah 1)

Eschatological Hope (Isaiah 2, 40, 55, 66)

Messiah (Suffering Servant) Isaiah 53

Use of Poetry/ Imagery

 

Isaiah 1:3, 2:4

God as mother (Isaiah 66:13)

Isaiah in the New Testament

Isaiah OT book used more than any other

Year of Jubilee

Isaiah 58:6, 61:1-2 & Luke 4

Week 8 – A Few Good Men…and Women

Scripture Reading:  Judges 2-4, 6-8, 13-16

Significant Moments in The Story

The death of Joshua & Israel’s “cycle of disobedience” – Judges 2

The judge Deborah & the Canaanites – Judges 4

The judge Gideon & the Midianites – Judges 6-8

Gideon’s fleece – Judges 6:36-40

The judge Samson & the Philistines – Judges 13-16

Samson & Delilah – Judges 15

Key Themes

The cycle of disobedience

Judges 2:11-19 establishes what will be the overarching pattern of the book of Judges – Israel will forsake God to worship other gods, they would fall to opposing nations, they would cry out to God for help, God would raise up a judge to deliver the people from their oppression, and a time of peace would follow.  Some interpret Judges not so much as a book of history but a book of religious instruction about the consequences of disobedience.  Indeed, as will be touched on later, there are a number of historical questions surrounding the book of Judges.  However, it also clear from the book itself that the stories told serve a didactic purpose:  even when God’s promises are fulfilled, the covenant relationship with God cannot be ignored.

An understanding of “the land”

To this point in the narrative of Scripture, the Promised Land has been the goal that Israel has been waiting to attain.  The book of Judges, at the very least, is the first descriptions of what living in the Promised Land looked like.

  • The land is a gift.  God intended the land to be a safe place for those who did not previously have a land of their own.  They did not acquire it by their own strength and power, but by the power of God.
  • The land is a summons.  Judges 2:1-2 is God explaining all that he has done for Israel in leading them out of slavery and giving them this land.  God says he will never forsake his covenant.  He then says that the land is both a gift and a calling, a calling to remain faithful to the relationship God has formed with Israel.  How will Israel respond to the gift they have received?
  • The land is a temptation.  Israel is no longer wandering in the wilderness having to look for sources of water and food. They now possess land, it is theirs.  With that safety comes the seduction of security – to forget the land is a gift they received rather than property they earned, to make possession of the land of greater significance than the covenant relationship with God who gave them the land.  Will Israel still be able to see God as the source and foundation of their life when they get into the day-to-day routines of living in the land?

Flawed heroes

The Bible does not put heroes on display through rose-colored glass.  Certainly, this is the case in the book of Judges, perhaps even more so.  Both Gideon and Samson are judges who deliver their people from oppression by foreign nations.  However, they are almost anti-heroes.  Gideon is constantly expressing doubt that God can do what God says He will do.  Before every action, Gideon asks God to prove Himself.  Even in the moment when it seems Gideon finally gets it – when he is asked to be king and he responds “The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:22-28) – he follows that up by asking the Israelites to give him their gold so that he can fashion an image which Israel will ultimately bow down to (think about the golden calf story).  Samson, for his part, is portrayed as a brash jerk who has little consideration for anyone besides himself, including God.  The only time that we hear any kind of faith on Samson’s part is when he asks God to give him the strength to bring the roof down on the Philistines (Judges 16:28).  Many of the stories of the judges are stories where we see God’s deliverance worked out through some of the most flawed people and circumstances.

Background Information

Baal – Judges 2:11-13

Baal was the name associated with the Canaanite god of fertility and storms.  In an agrarian culture, where life depended upon good crops and good soil, Baal was the chief god and the worship of Baal was central to the life of the people.  In the book of Judges, we see Israel settling into Canaan, a land where many of surrounding peoples worship Baal.  As Israel establishes roots in Canaan, it seems that they struggle with assimilating the worship of Baal into their worship of God and/or replacing the worship of God with the worship of Baal.  Though it might be easy for us today to ask why they would continue to do this after so many warnings to avoid such entanglements, it must be remembered that matters of faith were not separated out from other aspects of life.  For an agrarian society, the temptation to revere a god who was associated with the storms that renewed the land every year would have been not just a matter of belief but a matter of good business.

Astartes – Judges 2:13

Associated with the Canaanite fertility goddess Ashtoreth, an ally of Baal.

Judges – Judges 2:16

It is important to understand that a judge was not a king – their authority was neither absolute, permanent or hereditary.  Neither was a judge necessarily a legal figure, though Deborah seems to have had some kind of role in settling questions and disputes.  However, that may have been more associated with her role as a prophetess, one who explained the will and word of God to others.  In the book of Judges, the judges are instead portrayed as military leaders who are called out by God’s Spirit to deliver the people from oppression and rule over them for a time.  In some cases, these judges may have only been leaders in their specific tribes or over an alliance of a couple of tribes.

The nations the LORD left – Judges 2:21-23

Joshua 11:16-23 summarizes Joshua’s victories.  The picture that this passage portrays is that Joshua’s conquests were vast and almost absolute, that the people of Canaan save for the Gibeonites were “utterly destroyed.”  However, at the beginning of Judges, the picture that we see is vastly different.  We are told in Judges 1 of numerous groups of nations that continue to live in the land, and Judges 2 clearly says that there were nations that Joshua left when he died.  Judges portrays the continued existence of these nations in the Promised Land as God’s way of testing Israel’s faithfulness.

So how do we explain the two differing accounts that Joshua and Judges present of the Israelites’ conquering of the Promised Land?  There are a good number of historians who believe that Israel’s move into the Promised Land was a much more gradual process, more in line with the portrayal in Judges than in Joshua.  There are some who wonder if the narrative of Joshua reflects Israel’s initial entry and success in the land, basically summarizing the details of many years of fighting.

What should not be overlooked is that both Joshua and Judges are trying to do more than just recount history.  They are seeking to interpret history from a theological perspective.  They are not only seeking to speak to past events, they are seeking to address present issues in the relationship between God and His people.  Perhaps rather than taking on the difficult task of trying to make these seemingly contradicting timelines synchronize, we are better served letting each book speak its unique message.

The tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun – Judges 4:6

Another distinction between Joshua and Judges is that the action in Judges seems more regionalized and restricted to certain tribes.  For example, in the story of Deborah, only 2 tribes are called to fight against the forces of Sisera.  In Joshua, the Israelites are depicted as acting more as one nation.  In Judges, we see much more fragmented action.  This, along with the fact that the total number of years for the judges spans longer than the period of history that these battles actually would have taken place, has led to the idea that Judges may be a collection of stories of specific tribal leaders, some of whom were judges simultaneously.  Israel, at this time in their history, was much more a confederation of twelve tribes than a unified state.  It will not be until well into David’s reign that we will be able to really speak of a unified “Israel”.  Judges probably gives a more accurate portrayal of how Israel existed at this time – a loose alliance of tribes who expected their neighbors to join with them against an enemy or else face dire consequences (see Judges 8:4-17).

Choosing Gideon’s army – Judges 7:1-7

The story of how God leads Gideon to choose his army is fascinating.  However, it must be remembered that God’s purpose, as He explains to Gideon, is to insure that Israel does not take the credit that belongs to God.  First, Gideon tells all those who are afraid to fight to go home.  Then, from those that are left, God tells Gideon to take them to the water to get something to drink.  God tells him to send all those who knelt to get water home and keep all those who lapped the water like dogs.  Why is this such a significant difference?  It might be because those soldiers who lapped the water were likely the least trained, least prepared of all the soldiers.  The soldiers who knelt to drink probably did so that they could keep their head up and their weapon in their hand, ready for a surprise attack.  However, those who lapped the water like dogs would have to put their weapons down and would be completely oblivious to what was happening around them while they drank.  So, God sent Gideon into battle with the smallest group of Israel’s worst soldiers!

Nazirite – Judges 13:5

Interestingly, Samson is referred to more frequently as a nazirite than a judge.  The term means “one consecrated” or “one separated”.  As Judges describes, a nazirite’s dedication to God was symbolized by their refusal to drink of wine or intoxicating beverage and their refusal to cut their hair.  Some were believed to be set apart by a work or calling of God, others chose to become a nazirite of their own volition, in some cases maybe even just for a certain period of time in order to accomplish a specific task.

Some Questions That Might Come Up

Why would Gideon proclaim that only God would rule over Israel and then create a golden ephod that the people would worship?

First off, it should be noted that what God had feared earlier in the Gideon story has come true.  Notice in Judges 8:22 that Israel says, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.”  Remember when God was reducing the size of Gideon’s army because He was afraid if the army was too big that Israel would take the credit for victory themselves?  Sure enough, Gideon is getting all the credit for victory with no mention of God anywhere.  So, Gideon’s answer to this offer is indeed the seemingly righteous and faithful answer to give.

Which makes what happens next all the more perplexing and frustrating.  Gideon asks each person to give a golden earring that he melts down and has formed into a golden ephod.  Typically, an ephod was understood to be a priestly garment that was worn over the shoulders of the priest or might have been placed on the shoulders of an idol.  In this case, we are not certain if it is a garment or something else, perhaps even a replica of the ark of the covenant.  In any event, the result of his actions is that he creates an idol that Israel worships in place of God.

There are some who call Gideon’s motivations into question.  Notice that Gideon places this golden ephod in “his town” of Ophrah.  There are some who wonder if Gideon wasn’t trying to say all the right things about God being the ruler of Israel and, at the same time, control Israel in more subtle ways by controlling the religious life of the Israelites.  Or perhaps Gideon, whose family had been worshipers of Baal, is knowingly or unknowingly mixing foreign religious practices with the worship of the one God.  Dennis Olson, in the New Interpreter’s Bible, raises the possibility that Gideon may have offered Israel the ephod as a replacement for human leadership as a way of trying to shirk his responsibility to lead Israel as a judge.  The last verse of Judges speaks of the days when “… there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).  Perhaps the Gideon story is a foretelling of coming chaos when there is no responsible leadership.

Gideon is one of the most complex figures of Scripture.  He is constantly asking God to prove Himself before following His commands.  Outside of Judges 8:23, we might define Gideon as more of a coward than a courageous and faithful leader like Joshua.  This episode with the golden ephod is one more factor that complicates how Gideon is remembered, both in our memories and the memory of Scripture.

Some Reflection Questions

  1. Israel is constantly running from the true God to other false gods. What are some of the false gods in our culture today? Which of them have you trusted?
  2. False gods trigger a cycle: a web of sin, God’s judgments, crying out for help, and God providing deliverance. What are some destructive cycles you have seen in your own life?
  3. Do you think that the Israelites did a good job of passing their faith to the next generation? How can we do this better in the church and in our own families?
  4. How would you describe Deborah? In what way does her story influence your view of women in leadership?
  5. Do you think Gideon’s request for a sign was an act of faith or an act of faithlessness? Does his faith change over time?
  6. Your friend, Samson, confides in you that he has trouble with women but doesn’t understand why. What would you tell him?
  7. In what ways was Samson a faithful man of God? In what ways was he not?
  8. What was Samson’s true weakness? How can you deal with your weaknesses before they become your downfall?
  9. Where do you see God’s grace in this chapter?
  10. Which character in this chapter stands out to you and why? How can you be more like them?

Week 5 – New Commands and A New Covenant

Scripture Reading:  Exodus 19-20, 24-25, 32-34, 40

Significant Moments in The Story

The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20

Instructions for Building the Tabernacle – Exodus 25-31

The Golden Calf – Exodus 32

Key Themes

Commandments & Covenant

The concept of covenant is very familiar to us at this point.  We have seen again and again God establishing and fulfilling the promise that he made to Abraham and to his descendants.  And there have been times, such as when God commanded Abraham to circumcise all the males of his household, that we have seen God ask His people to put forth particular actions as a sign of their acceptance of God’s covenant.  However, it is here at Mt. Sinai that we perhaps most clearly understand that what God is seeking to create is more than just a people who are marked as His.  This covenant is designed to establish a relationship that will transform His people in word and deed.  Their entire lives, from their worship to their day to day relationships with one another, will be identifying marks of the presence of the living God in their midst and the liberation and salvation that He brings.

God’s holy otherness

On Mt. Sinai, God is revealed in thunder, smoke, and fire.  His face cannot be seen.  His glory gives a glow to the face of Moses.  Even as God is giving Moses the commandments that express and define His desire to be in the midst of His people, we are reminded that God is other than humanity.  The commandments are not a call to follow rules, but to live out the earth-shaking holiness that defines the character of God, in the reality that no action or word can ever bring us into a place of equality with God.  Even Moses, who spoke with God face to face, has to be protected from that part of God’s holiness which would overwhelm him.  The relationship between God and humanity is not a relationship among equals.  When we deal with God, we are dealing with the “holy other.”  As God’s people, we are called to be holy, meaning we are called to honor God as God (as opposed to the Fall when Adam and Eve chose to be gods unto themselves) and to seek a proper relationship with God in the midst of a world of disorder and sin (Creation brought order out of chaos, sin brought chaos out of order).

Disobedience

In the midst of all of these commandments that God gives, we come to understand that obedience is not just following rules.  To be obedient is to trust in God who can speak at any time or place.  Even in the face of overwhelming displays of God’s power and glory, Israel still turns to other gods, building golden calves and giving them the credit for leading them out of Egypt.  Certainly, we see a pattern here that we will see again and again in the story of God’s relationship with Israel:  God will deliver His people, they will proclaim faithfulness, and then they will disobey, losing trust in God.  Of course, we see this story in our own lives as well.  In this section of the story, we see that God, in the face of our disobedience, is indeed “merciful and gracious, … abounding in steadfast love.”  However, this story also confronts us with the idea that there are consequences for our disobedience, and that sometimes those consequences are not limited to our lives alone, but affect others.

 

Background Information

Mt. Sinai

The children of Israel will remain at Mt. Sinai for almost a year, their departure from Sinai described in Numbers 10.  This mountain is associated with the same mountain that Moses met with God in the burning bush in Exodus 3.  There, the name given to the mountain was Horeb.  Horeb and Sinai will be interchangeable names for the “mountain of God” in the Old Testament.  Not enough information is given for us to accurately identify the location of Mt. Sinai today.

The Law (Torah)

We pay a lot of attention to the Ten Commandments, and rightly so.  However, we often lose sight of the fact that the Ten Commandments, as expressed in Exodus 20, serve as the introduction and foundation of the entire Jewish law, known in Hebrew as the Torah.

God’s purpose for giving the Torah is perhaps most clearly expressed in Deuteronomy 5:33 – “You must follow exactly the path that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.”  To live in relationship, whether with God or with our fellow man, requires some kind of structure.  This structure is necessary to insure the stability and well-being of all involved in the relationship.  It should be noted that among the many commandments that will be handed down at Sinai will be several that speak directly to the most disadvantaged among the people of Israel – the poor, the elderly, the alien.  Even the commandment to honor father and mother was a commandment to insure the well-being of parents who could no longer work to take care of themselves.

Obedience to the Torah was not a matter of appeasing God.  Instead, obedience to the Law was about living life so that God could be revealed to the world.  In Exodus 34:10-14, the Lord tells Moses that he is about to marvelous things for Israel, and that all the people who live around Israel will see God through the works that He will do for Israel.  Obedience to the commandments was required to insure that the surrounding peoples would have a clear understanding of God’s work and, therefore, God’s character.

It must also be noted that, in the giving of the Torah, God shows that it is just as important to Him how Israel lives with one another as how Israel lives with Him.  The first 4 of the Ten Commandments focus on Israel’s relationship with God.  The last 6, however, focus on Israel’s relationship within the community.  In the Torah, we see the sacred and the secular blended together.  God is not only a religious obligation; He is indeed the Lord of all creation!

We sometimes think that the Israelites had a belief that obedience to the Law was what brought salvation.  However, note how God begins his address to Moses in Exodus 20:2-3, the beginning of the Ten Commandments.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

God did not liberate Israel because they had been obedient.  He makes it very clear that obedience follows salvation.  Obedience to the law is not earning God’s favor but joining God in reclaiming all of creation through His saving work.  This is why, in Deuteronomy 10:17-18, Moses describes God as one who is “…mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, … who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.”  To think that obedience to the Law was the way to win God’s favor is a misinterpretation of the Law’s purpose.  Israel was chosen as God’s people not on any accomplishments of their own but by the unmerited favor of God.

The sacrificial system – Exodus 24

The Torah contains within it many examples and instructions regarding animal sacrifice as part of the community’s worship life.  For many today, such a system seems meaningless, cruel, and archaic.  How we understand the sacrificial system will impact how we understand much of the rest of Scripture.

It should first be noted that the offering of sacrifices was not about appeasing God.  The sacrifices were not an act of “making up” with God or keeping God satisfied.  It should also be noted that the Israelites did not believe that killing was required to gain forgiveness.  In Leviticus 5:11-13, we are told that one could bring an offering of grain as atonement for one’s sins.  So the law did not require blood to gain forgiveness.

It also should be noted that animals, cattle, and produce were the currency of a wandering culture.  We place our cash, change, and checks in the offering plate every Sunday as a sign of trust and thanks to God.  In one sense, the sacrificial system was a similar act – placing a portion of what one owned into the care of God.

However, the most important meaning of sacrifice had to do with atoning for sins.  In Leviticus 17:10-13, God tells Moses, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.”  The blood of the animals served as a substitute for human life, and the sacrificial act was the act of giving life back to God, reversing the consequences of the Fall in which humanity’s actions took their lives away from God.

Interestingly, later passages will call into question the place and understanding of sacrifice within Israel.  Psalm 51:16-17, a prayer to God, reads, “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.  The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  In Hosea 6:6, God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”  From these passages, it seems clear that a proper understanding of atonement within the sacrificial system cannot be limited to the shedding of blood.

Obviously, the sacrificial system of Israel would become a foundation point for Christianity’s later understanding of Jesus’ death on the cross.  There are many theories to explain the meaning of Christ’s death and the forgiveness of sins.  Language that we hear and use sometimes, that Christ “paid the price for our sins” or that Christ “died in our place”, are based on understandings not only of Jesus Christ but the meaning of sacrifice as understood in the Scripture.

The tabernacle and the ark  – Exodus 25

God instructs Moses and the Israelites to build a tabernacle and different instruments for the tabernacle using the gold and jewelry that they carried out of Egypt from the Egyptians (Exodus 12:35-36).  Exodus 25:8 states the purpose for the tabernacle – “And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.”  God’s desire is still to be in the midst of His people, as He was in the beginning, walking in the Garden of Eden.

Much of this chapter is instructions for building the ark which will contain the words of the covenant that God is making with Israel at Sinai.  We are probably more familiar with the ark of the covenant because of Indiana Jones that we are these biblical passages.  However, the ark will remain significant as we move through Israel’s history.  The ark was more than just a container.  It was built to be a throne for God (Exodus 25:22).

The golden calf – Exodus 32

The calf was a symbol of fertility in the ancient Near East.  It should be noted that the items that the people donated to create the golden calf were the same items that God told Moses the people should donate to build the tabernacle and the items within the tabernacle.

The people ask Aaron to “make gods for us” when Moses stays longer on the mountain of God.  Interestingly, though, after crafting the calf, Aaron says in Exodus 32:5, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.”  This raises the question of whether the calf is representative of some false god (breaking the first commandment, Exodus 20:3) or if the calf is intended to be an image of the LORD, thus breaking the second commandment (Exodus 20:4).  The story also resonates with a familiar tone:  when Moses confronts Aaron, Aaron’s first response is to blame the people (Exodus 20:2) just as Adam’s first response was to blame Eve.  In addition, Aaron says that the calf magically appeared out of the fire (Exodus 32:24) even though we are told in two different places that Aaron made the calf himself (Exodus 32:4, 35).  The golden calf story thus is not only a story of breaking commandments; it is a story that reveals the threat of sin that is still present.

Moses breaks the tablets – Exodus 32:19

It was a relatively common practice in the ancient world to inscribe treaties on stone tablets.  When one party wanted to invalidate or repudiate the treaty, then that party would break the tablet.  It is interesting that it is Moses, in this case, who breaks the tablets, not God.  In Exodus 34, God instructs Moses to cut two new tablets, indicating that God’s mercy and faithfulness was not an excuse to take the covenant for granted.  However, the people could be restored and the covenant could be reestablished.  The formation of the two new tablets is an act of God’s grace.

 

Some Questions that Might Come Up

Why could Israel not make an altar out of chiseled stones (Exodus 20:25)?

No explanation is given as to why the Israelites, if they make an altar out of stone, must be built from raw stones.  Some think that these simple, raw altars were to be distinguished from more ornate pagan altars.  One wonders if another possible explanation was to insure that the attention and purpose of the altar was to praise God as opposed to praising the work of man.

Why does Moses order the Levites to kill “…your brother, your friend, and your neighbor”?

Exodus 32:25-29 is one of the passages that explains how it is that the Levites came to be set apart from the other tribes of Israel and recognized as the priestly clan.  This story is intended to show their zeal and passionate loyalty to the Lord above any social or family bonds.  It is interesting to note that it is Moses who attributes this instruction to God, even though we have not specifically heard God give this instruction in the midst of all the dialogue that we have heard between Moses and God.  Perhaps the story serves also as a cautionary tale about how we invoke God’s name into a situation.

 

Additional Resources

Week 3 – Joseph: From Slavery to Deputy Pharaoh

Scripture Readings:  Genesis 37, 39, 41-48, 50

Significant Moments in The Story

Joseph’s Brothers Sell Him into Slavery – Genesis 37

The LORD was with Joseph in Potiphar’s House – Genesis 39

Joseph Interpret’s Pharaoh’s Dream – Genesis 41

Joseph’s First Visit From His Brothers – Genesis 42

Joseph’s Brothers Return with Benjamin – Genesis 43

Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers – Genesis 45

Jacob (Israel) Settles in Egypt – Genesis 46

The Burial of Jacob and the Death of Joseph – Genesis 50

Key Themes

The supremacy of God

Perhaps no verse has come to serve as a better summary of the story of Joseph than Genesis 50:19-20.  After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared that he might finally seek his revenge for their actions 20+ years earlier when they sold him into slavery.  However, Joseph refuses to lash out at them, saying “Do not be afraid!  Am I in the place of God?  Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”  We can perhaps hear an echo of the voice of the apostle Paul who will write centuries later in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Both Paul and Joseph are proclaiming that God is indeed Lord over all things and that His will for the salvation of creation will not be stopped by man’s sin.

The fulfillment of the promise

God had said to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).  Now, through Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson, not only are Abraham’s descendants saved but also the peoples of Egypt and surrounding nations.  God uses Joseph to insure there will be food in the midst of a devastating world-wide famine (Genesis 41:53-57).  We are seeing God’s promise to Abraham being fulfilled, and at the same time we are seeing that the ultimate intent of God’s salvation is not restricted just to this one family or people.

An introduction to wisdom

Within the Old Testament we see evidence of what is sometimes called the Wisdom tradition.  This tradition sought for truth that God embedded within all creation.  Experience and study of reality allowed mankind to learn this truth and thus grow closer to God while improving life and relationships.  Joseph’s story has sometimes been used as a paradigm for wisdom.  Unlike the stories of Abraham and Jacob, we rarely hear God speak directly in Joseph’s story.  However, Joseph does model some of the basic expressions of the Wisdom tradition.  Failure comes when one does not follow the teachings of wisdom, as modeled by the antagonism of Joseph’s brothers when he boasts about his dreams (See Proverbs 27:1-4).  On the flip side, success comes when one follows wisdom’s dictates.  Joseph’s faithfulness to Potiphar and the Pharaoh and his rejection of the advances of Potiphar’s wife, ultimately resulting in his rising to a position to save the people from famine, seems to be a parable of Proverbs 3:1-10.

Background Information

Joseph’s coat – Genesis 37:3

Many of us are familiar with Joseph’s “coat of many colors”.  However, this phrase came from a translation of the Greek and Latin texts of the Old Testament, not the original Hebrew.  While the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain, the reference seems to be not to a multi-colored coat but to a coat with sleeves.  Typically, a young man would have worn a sleeveless tunic that reached to the knees.  This coat seems to have been more like a long robe of a type that could have royal connotations, which certainly would have increased the brothers’ agitation when Jospeh shares his dreams.  Another possible agitation is that such a robe is not one that Joseph could have done manual labor in, perhaps indicating that Jacob excused Joseph from tasks that he expected the rest of his sons to do.  Notice that Jacob is not with his brothers pasturing the flocks in Shechem (Genesis 37:12-14).

Reuben – Genesis 37:21-22

Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son, has had interesting history within his family already.  In Genesis 35:22, we are told, “While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.”  To sleep with his father’s concubine while his father was still alive was an act that could be viewed as rebellion or an attempt to claim his father’s role in the family.  Later on, in Genesis 49, when Jacob address all his sons before his death, Reuben does not receive a blessing as we would expect the firstborn to receive.  Instead, Jacob says of him, “… you shall no longer excel because you went up onto your father’s bed; then you defiled it – you went up onto my couch!” (Genesis 49:4).  All this raises the question if Reuben’s motivation for preserving Joseph’s life was an attempt to return to his father’s good graces.

Potiphar’s wife – Genesis 39:7-20

This story parallels an ancient Egyptian story called “The Tale of Two Brothers”, in which the wife of one brother made sexual advances toward a second brother.  When the second brother refused her advances, she laid false accusations against him, causing the first brother to seek to kill the second brother.  However, the first brother eventually becomes convinced of the second brother’s innocence and has his wife killed instead.  Obviously the story of Joseph has a very different ending.

Pharaoh’s cupbearer – Genesis 41

After the incident with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph is thrown into prison.  Soon after, he makes an impression on the chief jailer, who gives Joseph responsibility over the other prisoners.  Two of those prisoners were former servants of the Pharaoh, a cupbearer, whose job it was to taste the Pharaoh’s drink to insure it was not poisoned, and a baker.  While in prison, both of these men have dreams that they cannot understand.  They ask Joseph to interpret their dreams, and Joseph tells them that their dreams indicate that the cupbearer will be returned to the service of the Pharaoh but the baker will be executed.  Sure enough, this is what happens, and Joseph asks the cupbearer to plead his case before Pharaoh so that he might be released from jail.  However, upon his release, the cupbearer returns to his duties and forgets about Joseph until Pharaoh has a confusing dream of his own.

Benjamin – Genesis 43

Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother.  Benjamin and Joseph were the only sons of Jacob by his wife Rachel.  The remaining 10 sons were Jacob’s children by Jacob’s other wife, Rachel’s sister Leah, and their two handmaidens, Bilhah and Zilpah.  Genesis 29:30 tells us that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, so his preference for Joseph and Benjamin is perhaps not surprising.

Ephraim and Manasseh – Genesis 48

The story of Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh serves as an explanation of later social and cultural realities in Israel.  Jacob asks Joseph to bring the two boys to him so that he can adopt them as his own sons (“Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are” – Genesis 48:5).  In later generations, while each of Jacob’s sons will have a tribe associated with them, the tribe of Joseph will exist split into two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh.  This story serves to explain that split and why they are considered equal in status to the other tribes.

During the adoption ceremony, Jacob places his right hand on Ephraim’s head, indicating the greater favor.  Typically, the elder son would have received the greater blessing by virtue of being the firstborn.  This story probably served as an explanation for why, especially during the period of the Judges and in the early years of the kingdom of Israel, the tribe of Ephraim wielded more influence and power than the tribe of Manasseh.

“Carry Up My Bones From Here” – Genesis 50:25

In the Biblical account of Israel’s departure from Egypt, we are told in Exodus 13:19, “And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, ‘God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.'”

This odd oath that Joseph makes the Israelites take brings to our attention a fundamental problem at the end of Genesis:  the descendants of Abraham are not in the land that God had given to Abraham.  The covenant would seem to be at risk, a feeling that will only be heightened by the events at the opening of the book of Exodus.

Some Questions That Might Come Up

How exactly did Joseph get out of that well?

The story of how Joseph gets out of the well that his brothers threw him in and ends up in Potiphar’s house is a little confusing.  Was he sold to Ishmaelites who then turned around and sold him to Potiphar or was he pulled out of the well by the Midianites who then sold him to Potiphar?  The Ishmaelites and Midianites were different people groups.  Likely, the oral tradition of this story varied on this detail and so the author of Genesis sought to join the two stories together rather than choose one over the other.

Additional Resources