Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Life of Joseph (1) - A Devastated Dreamer

I've recently started the life of Joseph in my local prison.  I thought I would summarise the studies in blog posts.  

Why should we study the life of Joseph?

Well firstly because it is a great story.  Think of some of the great themes: jealousy, rage, attempted murder, betrayal, injustice, false accusations, prison, promotion, power, wealth, deceit and reconciliation. These issues characterise our relationships and cause so many problems in our society.  Joseph's life could easily be the theme of a Hollywood blockbuster. Secondly, studying the life of Joseph helps us to know more about God in the way he deals with Joseph.  We see God's faithfulness, his goodness and his sovereignty.  It also shows us how God keeps his promises even when it looks like he has forgotten us. The Israelite's thought they would be wiped out by famine but God was at work through Joseph.  But lastly Joseph is like Jesus, but different.
    • Both were beloved by their father Gen 37 v 3 and Mark 1 v 11
    • Both were sent to their brothers but rejected and sold for pieces of silver Gen 37 v 28 and Matt 26 v 15
    • Both suffered persecution and temptation Gen 37 v 18-36, 39 v 7-20 and Matt 4 v 1-11. 
    • Both were suffering servants who eventually became saviours.
    • Joseph and Jesus were both eventually vindicated and exalted Gen 37 v 5-11, 41 v 37-45 and Philippians 2 v 9-10
Who was Joseph?

  • Joseph came from a great covenant legacy.  His great grandfather was Abraham, his grandfather was Isaac and his father was Jacob.  As is so often the case we see history repeating itself in Genesis 37. Jacob, Josephs father had deceived his father and brother and he is now deceived by his sons who tell him that Joseph has been killed.  Actually the brothers had tried to kill him but instead sold him in to slavery. 
  • A nomadic lifestyle.  The story of Joseph took place somewhere around 1880-1680 BC.  Along with many tribes, Joseph's family would have lived a nomadic lifestyle.  It is unlikely that Joseph would have seen a house before he was taken to Egypt as a slave.
  • He came from a dysfunctional family.  Why was there such hatred between Joseph and his brothers? It couldn't have helped that the brothers had different mums: Leah (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Isacher and Zebulan), Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin), Bilhah (Dan and Naphtali) and Zilpah's sons (Gad and Asher).  If we think some families today are complex just remember Joseph.  
  • As well as complexity we also see favouritism. We see in Genesis 37 v 3 that Joseph was the favourite son and was given a special brightly coloured coat.  He wasn't the oldest or firstborn son, but his mother was Rachel who died giving birth to his brother Benjamin.  So Joseph had to deal with trauma and grief at a young age. He also embraced the mantel of the favoured son with some degree of pride.  We read in Genesis 37 about two dreams he had that involved his brothers bowing down to him. Unsurprisingly, the simmering resentment was stoked into outright hatred at this arrogance.
  • An unfulfilled promise.  While its easy to be harsh on Joseph I tend to feel that he may have been slightly naive.  He was undoubtedly arrogant but ultimately he would have been excited about having these dreams. Joseph must have known that telling the second dream would have infuriated his brothers yet he was clearly convinced that it was prophetic.  Joseph's dreams are the cornerstone of the next 13 chapters of Genesis as God slowly unfolds his hidden purposes so that Joseph's dreams are fulfilled in a remarkable way.

A Conspiracy to Murder

Joseph's father sends him down to Shechem to see if his brothers were well as they shepherded the flock.  They saw him coming and, far from home, they conspired to kill him. We are not told in the text but it seems clear that the brothers had been fermenting their hatred for some time.  People don't just suddenly decide to murder somebody, not least a brother.  Before the brothers murder Joseph the oldest brother Reuben steps in and pleads with them to throw Joseph down a well meaning to rescue him later.  Reuben had his own issues and back in Genesis 35 had slept with his fathers mistress Bilhah (this must have made for interesting conversation with Dan and Naphtali not to mention his father). Perhaps this noble act would enable him to gain favour with his father or perhaps he genuinely sought to do the right thing.

Human Traffic

As the brothers break for lunch while Joseph languishes in a well, suddenly a human caravan of traders pass by on their way to Egypt. Later the brothers confess that while they ate, their wee brother was pleading with them for his life (Gen 42 v 21).  It is hard to enter into the heartlessness of the brothers at this stage and yet God was in control. Judah suggests that they may as well profit from their brother and get some money for him.  He is sold for 20 shekels and marched down to Egypt.  It is likely that Joseph would have been stripped naked and shackled. His rejection and humiliation was complete.  Alone, he was facing an uncertain future.  It appears that Reuben wasn't around when Joseph was sold and was overcome with grief at what his brother had done.  He knew how his father would react and that he would be held accountable as the first born son.

The Cover Up Begins

The heartlessness of the brothers seems to know no bounds.  Having ignored the pitiless cry of their wee brother, having sold him like an object, they now deceive their father with a concocted story of their brother being ripped to pieces by a wild animal.  It seems almost unbelievable that the brothers went along with the story while their father was inconsolable with grief.  Genesis says tells us 'all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him'. The perpetrators of this terrible crime pretended to comfort their Dad!  We see that one sin leads to another. Jealousy leads to hatred, hatred leads to murder, murder leads to greed and the whole situation is intertwined with deceit. The whole story is a lesson to us to never play with sin.  Its consequences are devastating. 

History Repeats Itself

While Jacob was the victim of a terrible crime, we see history repeating itself.  Just as Jacob had deceived his father and brother in Geneses 27, so he too was now being deceived: ‘Jacob had seen the disasters wrought by parental favouritism in his own life and Esau’s and yet, fool that he was, he openly made much of Joseph.’ Joyce G. Baldwin, The Bible Speaks Today.  We see deception going full circle.  As Galatians 6 v 7-10 says: 'Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, he shall also reap.'  Sin has a price.  While Christ can forgive us, we often have to live with the consequences of our sin in this life.

Seeing Jesus in the Life of Joseph

As we look at Joseph over the next few months, always remember that Joseph is pointing us to a perfect Saviour. In what ways is Jesus like Joseph?  

    • Who conspired to get rid of Joseph and Jesus?
      • Geneses 37
      • Luke 19 v 47
    • Who betrayed Joseph and Jesus?
      • Genesis 37
      • Luke 22 v 4-5
    • What was ripped from Joseph and Jesus?
      • Genesis 37
      • John 19 v 23 – 24

Can you see yourself in the life of Joseph?

How has your family affected you?  Can you relate to Joseph's family?

Can you think of ways in which you have 'reaped what you have sown?'

Why do you think God gives us stories like Joseph in the Bible?

Prayer - Lord, thank you for the story of Joseph.  Thank you that it is real and raw just like so much of life.  Thank you that you are at work when sin is at its worst and ugliest.  We praise you that were sin abounds your grace super abounds.  Thank you that your love goes deeper and further than my sin and you can redeem proud arrogant sinners like Joseph and like me.  Please open my eyes by your grace to see my sin and to see your amazing love, in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Lord speak to me through this story and use me to glorify you today and every day.  In Jesus name, amen

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Dr Guthrie the Pastor

After waiting for a call for 5 years, Dr Guthrie started his ministry in a rural charge in Arbirlot, Angus from 1830-37.  Almost the entire parish of 1000 people attended church and the nearest ‘Ale House’ was in Brechin.  Despite his inevitable visibility in a small village, Guthrie took extra steps to make sure he came into weekly contact with his people through a savings bank and library both set up in the manse.  Far from compromising his ministry with ‘secular’ activity, the library and bank were very much part of Guthrie’s vision for the ministry.  It helped him deepen relationships and enabled him to have a godly influence in a small community.  As Guthrie says: These and other extra labours which I undertook showed the people that I was seeking to live for them, not for myself – that I came not to lord it over God’s heritage, not to be their master, but their minister, in the original sense of the word. 

Moving to the Old Greyfriars Parish Church, Edinburgh in 1837, Guthrie believed strongly in living amongst the people of his parish.  In a letter to a friend who was a politician, prior to his settlement in Edinburgh he said: Now, I should like a clergyman never to step out of his own door but he steps in among his population.  Guthrie remained true to his word and both of the houses he lived in at Argyll Square, Brown Square and Lauriston Lane were minutes from the heart of the Cowgate.

By the time Guthrie came to Edinburgh he was already convinced of Thomas Chalmers vision for church planting and for the parochial system laid out in his Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns. This included having a church open to people without distinction of class or wealth (pew rents were standard practice at that time), properly equipped schools, elders, deacons and district visitors to aid the minister in systematic visitation of the parish and relief of the poor.  The reality of this vision was a huge challenge for Guthrie and as he says of his new parish in comparison to his old one: I can compare it to nothing else than the change from the green fields and woods and the light of nature to venturing into the darkness and blackness of a coal-pit!  It was always his intention to plant a church in his Edinburgh parish and in 1840 St John’s in Victoria Street was opened.

So what was Guthrie’s pattern as a pastor?  Well, mornings were reserved for study and preparation.  He says: For some years after coming to Edinburgh I rose summer and winter, at five o’clock.  By six, I had got through my dressing and private devotions, had kindled my fire, had prepared and enjoyed a cup of coffee, and was set down at my desk; having, till nine o’clock when we breakfasted, three unbroken hours before me.  This allowed the rest of the day to be given over to systematic visitation of his parish.  He took meticulous notes of all his visits and followed up genuine cases of hardship with practical help.  Despite the huge demands on Dr Guthrie, both from his parish and his wider responsibilities in the Free Church, he always kept evenings free for his families: I resolved, on coming to Edinburgh, to give my evenings to my family; to spend them, not in my study, as many ministers did, but in the parlour among my children.

As Guthrie details in his Autobiography he had daily discouragements as a pastor but as Oliphant Smeaton says of him: He never faltered.  He took as his motto ‘Jehovah-nissi – The Lord my Banner,’ and every disappointment and failure only caused him to redouble his efforts and his prayers.’