The act of writing, of sharing the circumstances, the gifts and the graces planned and carried out by my Savior and God brings joy, peace, and contentment to know that He has my life in His hands. My prayer for those who read, who share in what I continue to learn each day, many times through my weakness, is that you will be encouraged to look for God's presence and grace in your life also.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The mercy of brokenness in Genesis 42

[The following is rewritten from a lecture I prepared to give on Genesis 42 at our Women's Bible Study. Because of snow that day's Bible Study had to be cancelled. I pray you will find what I learned helpful to you in understanding how the story of Jacob, Joseph and his 10 older brothers gives us hope.  The pictures are some I took at the Denver Botanical Gardens last year.Pictures give a nice break from all the words.]

I'm a caregiver... I have been a caregiver of my husband for 38 years and it is not getting easier. Larry's abilities to do certain things seem to be fading plus I'm getting older also.  Last week we had an appointment with his neurologist who told me some things that are disconcerting to say the least.  We will see if he is right.

This particular neurologist is extremely compassionate and caring.  I can better handle doctors who don't show compassion...because when they say to me directly things like, "How are you? Four decades is a long time to care for someone." it suddenly dawns on me, "Yes, it is."

Then if I'm not careful, I begin to feel sorry for myself and that can end in disaster, but God has taught me through the years that it is then, I need to ask Him to give me direct opportunities to help others with "truth", His truth that He has made so clear in Scripture. Helping others with His truth helps me too.

God's timing is so perfect.  His Perfect Provision so real, there are days I can taste it. That doctor ordered an ultra sound on Larry's carotid arteries to make sure blood is getting to his brain in adequate amounts. So this last Tuesday we went to have that done and BINGO the very opportunity I had been praying for came.

While we were waiting for the valet to retrieve our car, we were in front of Penrose Hospital enjoying the first warm sunshine we had felt in days. I left Larry sitting in his wheelchair in the sun while I walked out further on the crowded sidewalk so I could see when the car arrived.

"Beautiful day, isn't it?" I said to a younger woman standing there.

"Oh yes.  The sun shining on this beautiful snow is breathtaking," she answered.

Our conversation led to her telling me about her youngest, a 6-year-old girl who keeps her going in spite of the fact she (the mom) has MS.  She has three other children up to age 15.

"That must be really hard," I said.

She nodded adding, "But everyone has something hard they deal with."

"You are right. My hard is in the wheelchair by the door. We had a car accident 38 years ago and he has a closed head injury. Without God I couldn't have done it."

I could tell that she couldn't imagine what my life must have been like all those years.  She seemed overwhelmed by the thought of it.  And then to encourage me I'm sure, she said, "But you know God never gives us more than we can handle."

Immediately I looked deep into her eyes and said, "That is not true.  He always gives us more than we can handle because He wants us to depend on Him. To trust Him. Because without Him we can't do anything."

Tears filled her eyes as she grabbed both my hands and said, "I've never heard that before but it is true. God put you here today for me.  I so needed to hear that because I've been thinking that I really can't do this anymore."

Her name is Amy and suffering is both her friend and mine because the brokenness born of suffering drives us to Jesus.

Pastor Bates sermon last Sunday, the one most of us didn't hear because we stayed home due to the snow and bad roads, definitely had an impact on my thoughts concerning this lecture.  I hope that you will go listen to Hearing Grace From God's Word. One of the things he talked about was that we can read or study the Bible for the wrong purpose.

He said the Bible was written to give us hope not to discourage us.  Studying the Bible  in order to check off a box on a list of things to do to be a good Christian is not good.  Reading the Bible to learn how to behave better, sin less,  help others or even love Jesus more should also not be our primary motive because when we fail, we will be discouraged. Remember HOPE is the key.

Our reason for reading and studying the Bible is to see Jesus who is our HOPE because Jesus is what
the Bible is all about. The Hope in the Bible is Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead. Jesus Christ who came to be the sacrifice for our sins because we were totally dead and could nothing to help ourselves.

As we study the life of Joseph, we cannot, we must not think it is written to teach us what to do better and what not to do.  Using the story of Joseph to teach young people about how to resist sexual temptation is missing out on the big picture of the Bible...

These verses in Chapter 42 are there to give us hope, to encourage us. We need to look at this story as one where we can see how God redeems a family who were doomed to failure because of their selfishness, their lusts, their murderous hearts, their sin and even the circumstances over which they had no control. The story should encourage us because God in his perfect providence redeems His chosen people for himself.  He loves them with his steadfast love and faithfulness that never fails in spite of their failures.  Through discipline, trials horrendous sin, he brings them to Himself so he can use them gloriously according to His promises to their grandfathers Abraham and Isaac to make a people for Himself... a nation through whom God would send His only Son to become the Savior of the world... to bring blessing to all the nations of the world.

AND if He can use this family for his glory, he can certainly use us for his glory too as He redeems us from the sin and death we were born into.

Where is the hope in Chapter 42 of Genesis?  Just one chapter in this story of Joseph where we can see the beginning of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers. In this story there are so many things that could have gone differently.  So many things that could have prevented and changed the ultimate outcome of Joseph not only forgiving his brothers, but the brothers never being forced to come face-to-face with their sin.  If God had not orchestrated each of the events through his perfect providence, Jacob would not have been the Father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In order to get to this place where God could begin to grow a strong nation, a nation with 12 tribes who would be a unified nation that feared God, what did God need to have?

He needed people who were broken.  Individuals who realized they were helpless failure in themselves because of their sinfulness and powerlessness to change themselves.

In the story of Joseph, we see a story of brokenness, a brokenness that drives each one in the family toward God and isn't that what brokenness is for?.

First let's look at Jacob, the father of the 12 sons-- a man flawed from the beginning, actually from his birth when he tried to get out of the womb first.  Later he actually deceived his father Isaac into giving him the birthright that belonged to Essau as the first born.  The name Jacob actually means deceiver. Jacob was even deceived by Laban, his father-in-law when he gave Jacob Leah instead of Rachel as his first wife.  We see Jacob in his lust and selfishness fathering sons from his wive's servants.  His favorite wife, Rachel is barren for years and then after much anger and bitterness gives birth to two sons by God's grace but dies giving birth to the second.  Jacob is devastated beyond consolation at her death. We also see him playing favorites among his sons, causing huge problems in the family and actually led to Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt..

Here in chapter 42, Benjamin has obviously become Jacob's favorite son.  Jacob knows that sending
his oldest 10 sons to Egypt for grain will be dangerous for them if they are mistaken for spies.  They could be imprisoned or even killed.  Can you imagine how the older sons feel knowing their father is willing to send them into danger?

Through the years it would seem that Joseph has finally come to the rightful conclusion that Joseph's probable death was somehow at the hands of the ten sons who were known for their deceitfulness, their murderous hearts, their anger.  Jacob sums up his brokenness in verse 36 after they return from Egypt without Simeon when he says, "You have bereaved me of my children; Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin.  All this has come against me." Little does he know that all of this has come about to save him, to save his family, to reunite his entire family, to save the covenant people that God had set apart for Himself.

Over and over in the life of Jacob we see him sinning, repenting, turning to God and then falling again.  Here in this chapter, he is at an all time low. He seems to have forgotten God and his promises. Life can get no worse for Jacob.

God had brought Jacob to the end of himself through taking away any control he had over what was happening.  He had tried to protect what he held most dear and had failed.  His own efforts at self-preservation had proved futile.

Then there are the brothers who are brought to brokenness because of their sin.

 Can you imagine what it would have been like to be at a holiday dinner where they were all together.  You think you have a dysfunctional family... you have no idea.  These ten brothers had a secret that had no doubt weighed heavily on their consciences for 22 years.  They had sold their little brother, obnoxious as he was, into slavery to get rid of him just because they thought he was spying on them.  I'm sure some of them also thought if Joseph were out of the way maybe their father would love them more. We see evidences in the news all the time of boys and men horrible acts who had either missing fathers or ones who had showed them no love.

These brothers had no doubt heard stories out of Egypt about how slaves were treated.  In their hearts they knew Joseph was dead.  I doubt very much that they had even talked about what they had done with Joseph among themselves for those 22 years.  I'm sure there were many side-ways looks but not a word.  There had been sleepless nights and days filled with anger and bitterness at how life had turned out.  Each one probably wondered why their father couldn't love them.  Can you imagine the abuse, the anger they expressed to their wives and children.  They were in a viscous circle because of their sin and there was no way to get out.

Now to make matters worse there is a famine covering the earth and Jacob tells these ten sons he
doesn't like very much to go to Egypt... the dreaded country whose name had not been spoken between them.  At the beginning of the chapter we hear Jacob say to them, "Why are you looking at each other?" Well, no wonder.  I'm sure they weren't breathing either.  EGYPT...the last place on earth they wanted to go and who knew if they would ever come back.  If they were mistaken for spies, death probably awaited them.

Their desperate need for grain and obedience to Jacob sends them on their way across the border and sure enough they are suspected by the governor, second in command only to the Pharaoh, of being spies.  He calls them spies and no matter how much they protest, he doesn't believe them and they are thrown into the pit for three days.  Those three days and nights in the darkness give them plenty of time to remember what they had done to Joseph and how even though he had begged, crying to be let out, they didn't listen.

They must have come to the horrible conclusion that they would be left to rot in prison but they also knew it was what they deserved because of their sin.

The mercy Joseph shows them in letting them out after only three days only intensifies their guilt as we hear them say to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen.  That is why this distress has come upon us." Reuben even reminds them that he had tried to tell them not to sin against Joseph. "But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood." They have recognized that they are terrible sinners and there is no hope.

Their remorse for their sin is so obvious that Joseph had to turn away as his tears fell.  Then Joseph
shows them even more mercy as he only keeps one of the brothers and sends the other nine back to Jacob with all the grain they needed plus all their money.  Being given mercy when it isn't deserved does one thing for those on the receiving end.  It only makes them more aware of their sin, more aware of the fact they don't deserve it.

Now they have to go back and face their father and tell him that they have to bring Benjamin back to Egypt if he wants to see Simeon again.  When they find the money in their bags which Joseph meant for a blessing, they are totally undone by.  Their hearts fail them and they know if they go back to Egypt, they will be accused of theft.

 Talk about brokenness.  God has brought them to this place through them seeing their real condition. Their sin, their wicked sinful condition, where they understand that God is indeed involved in their lives and knows exactly what they have done.  They say, "What is this that God has done to us?" They know at some point sin must be paid for and they knew the time of reckoning had come with God, but they are helpless to atone for their sin.

Was there anything they could do to help their situation?  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  No matter how honest they were now or what they said or did, they weren't believed.  The ruler in Egypt didn't believe them, their father blamed them, and their guilt was enormous.  The hard of their life, even though it did come from choices they had made, had brought them to the place where they needed forgiveness and reconciliation.

You know what?  God does that in our lives.  In his perfect providence, He orchestrates the circumstances of our lives by using His Spirit to bring us to the place where we can see our sin, our need for a Savior and He gives us the ability to ask for forgiveness and to put our trust in Jesus Christ. And then even after we have received the faith He gives us, he continues to use brokenness because of our continuing sin to remind us of who we really are without Him.  He doesn't make us better, He makes us needy so we will depend completely on the work of His Son Jesus to cover us righteousness.

But what about Joseph?  He really doesn't seem so bad does he.  Other than being an obnoxious,
arrogant brat as a teenager, he seems pretty good compared to the rest of the family.  BUT he too must come to the point of knowing his brokenness, his inability to save himself.

So many times Joseph is held up as the epitome of what we all need to do.  To stand firm in our faith even in severe trials and suffering...even in the pit.  To be the person who withstands temptation by fleeing and leaving the trappings of that temptation behind.  And indeed, we can see Joseph as a picture of Christ in that he did save his people from sure death by going through a kind of death in being separated from his family.

But in the 13 years after this young 17-year-old was sold into slavery, God would use Joseph's captors, his dark prison, his disappointments, his broken, shattered dreams, his obligations and duties in slavery which were no doubt extremely hard, to bring him to a place of brokenness.  The brokenness that comes from a suffering where there is nothing one can do to change the circumstances but rather circumstances that consistently bring out one's weaknesses and need for help.

In the ebbs and flows of that suffering, he had not only learned to trust God but he had learned God loved him.  He had learned to fear God.  And that fear of God had resulted in his being the wisest, the most compassionate man in Egypt. When suffering goes on for years, a suffering not necessarily caused by sin and selfishness, the person either turns to God and learns about the steadfast love and faithfulness of God that is poured out or he becomes bitter and hard and can't see beyond the hard in his life.  Through God's goodness, He had brought Joseph through without bittereness and hatred but rather love and compassion.  Consequently, when the brothers were brought before him and he recognized them as they bowed their faces to the ground, he was able to control himself and not blurt our to them, "I TOLD YOU SO!"

We must also look to the fact that even though Joseph feared God, trusted God, he still hurt.  When we look at his first born son, Manasseh which means, "God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father's house," we can easily see that Joseph had spent years trying to forget those horrible brothers of his.  Brothers who because of their hatred of him had put him in a pit and sold him into slavery.  Living with that fact would have been difficult giving everything else he had had to face and so he tried to forget them.  He did everything he could to forget them, even giving his firstborn a name that would mean he had forgotten.  But how in the world could he forget when every time he looked at this son or spoke his name, he was reminded of what he wanted God to help him forget.

God had not let him forget.  You see God does not want us to forget where we came from or what He has brought us out of.  He doesn't want us to forget how bad we were, what failures we were.  He wants us to remember and that is why we must preach the Gospel to ourselves every single day.  I was absolutely dead in my sins, I could not lift a finger to save myself or speak a word to even ask for help, but God in His love for His own, sent His only Son to die on the cross and be raised from the dead so that He could give me faith to believe in Him.  He did it all.

It is only then, as we realize what we were, what God did through his Son and that we are now covered in the righteousness of Christ, that we can know with Joseph who named his second son Ephraim, "For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction." A name that acknowledges that God did it all.. through the suffering He brings, through our sinfulness and selfishness, he brings fruitfulness.  He, Joseph did nothing to bring about the fruitfulness just as we can do nothing except rest in Jesus and His finished work on the cross.

This beautiful story of Joseph gives us hope as we go through this hard life.  Hope because if God was totally and completely in control of the circumstances in the story of Joseph; if he can take a selfish, self-centered man like Jacob, and sinful, wicked men like the ten brothers and an arrogant self-centered brat like Joseph and use them for His glory, we know He can and will do the same with us.  Praise God, our redeemer, our HOPE.  Be encouraged.

[The girl in the picture is my great-niece, Maddie,  who went with Larry and I in June to see the Gardens.]


  1. Thank you so much for this post. It is deep and inspiring. I have been truly blessed reading it. May the grace and strength that comes from our loving God continue to abound richly to you and Larry.

  2. P.S. The pictures from the Botanical Garden are really beautiful. I love to see the place some day. Well done.