Mystic discovers the joys of a cool stream on a hot day.
And so do we!
OK, a bit of an overstatement in the title there. But not much!
The first chapter of Exodus (2nd book of the Law/Torah/Old Testament) opens with an account of Israel’s experience in the nation of Egypt. And the themes that are described are a lens through which we can easily see great movements throughout history.
As the book of Genesis closes, Israel and his tribe of 70 have been welcomed into Egypt, since one of his sons, Joseph, has become second-in-command to Pharoah and ruled with such wisdom and grace that the halo of esteem surrounding him extended to his entire family. The Israelites would spend hundreds of years in that land, always with the goal of returning the promised land of Canaan, but meantime, multiplying greatly into nation within a nation.
Wherein lay the problem.
As generations passed, memories of Joseph faded, and the Israelites became so numerous that the Egyptians began to feel threatened. They feared that if war came, this huge population group would turn on them and fight against them. The answer was not to strengthen mutual bonds, but to concoct a plan to subdue those no longer viewed as desirable, take away their freedom, and threaten those perceived to be a threat.
And so they began to oppress the descendants of Israel. Life moved from co-existence to conquest, from collaboration to oppression. How many times, among people groups all over the world and all through time, have we seen this pattern?
The Egyptians felt that they must maintain possession of their land. They needed to ensure their postion of power. And so, they embraced the idea that they had a right to oppress others, because (fill in the in blank: “we belong, you don’t” “we’re superior to you” “we have the power of arms”). Woven through this chapter is a picture that may vary in the details and circumstances, but in substance, is a microcosm of what we see throughout human history.
Wars, genocide, slavery…it always flows from this misguided, selfish, arrogant, and evil perspective. But as Exodus unfolds, we’ll see that there is a far greater power at work – a God determined to fulfill His promises and purposes by subduing the subduers, and liberating His oppressed people. The initial promises to create a great nation and plant them in the land of Canaan may have been hundreds of years ago, but they are not in the least decayed in the eyes of Him who made them. The first Passover is just over the horizon…
We wrapped up the book of Genesis today in Sunday School, having traced the pathways of the partriarchs from Abraham in chapter 12 all the way to chapter 50 today (Easter Sunday). And what might the end of Genesis, and the end of the life of Joseph, have to do with Easter?
Quite a lot, actually.
The chapter opens with the mourning of Jacob (Israel), father of the 12 tribes, and the carrying of his embalmed body back to the Canaan, where he had made Joseph swear that he’d bury his body. Jacob wanted his body to be with those of his fathers, in the land of promise, and Joseph faithfully discharged his duty to his honored father by leading a procession back there for the burial. The spirit of Israel was departed, but his body was not discarded – Joseph and his brothers did not forget about his bones.
Then, the chapter fast-forwards to the end of Joseph’s life. He and the growing tribe of Israel were still in Epypt, where in fact they would remain for 400 years, enslaved by those who once welcomed and honored them. Joseph made his relatives vow that he would not be buried in Egypt, but that he’d be interred with his fathers in the land of promise. After death, he was embalmed and in a coffin his body was placed . But not misplaced.
Now fast-forward 400 years, into the book of Exodus, when the children of Israel leave Egypt to take up their rightful place in Canaan. They left in haste, but they did not leave empty-handed – in Exodus 13:19, we see that they carried with them the bones of Joseph. All those years, from generation to generation, the memory of Joseph and the promise to finally bring his body to its proper place was remembered. “Quick, gather the children, the flocks, the unleavened bread – gather all our possessions – oh, and DON’T FORGET Joseph’s bones!!!”
Now, fast-forward many more generations, to the tomb of another Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea. A body has been there since Friday. Dead, but not forgotten – for on the third day, there was a resurrection that shook the world. A man unjustly accused and brutally executed by the jealous rage of men was due to be liberated from that grave, and made alive again. As Joseph long ago said regarding the plot of his brothers to get rid of him, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). So in this case – men intended to get rid of this upstart preacher, but in crucifying Him, brought about untold good.
And that risen Savior, Jesus, is called the “first-fruits” of those who have “fallen asleep in Him.” Translation – He’s not going to forget the bones of his followers. They, too, will be raised with Him. Death will hold their decaying bodies for a season, but they will be resurrected to a promised land where there is no more death and decay. It’s sealed with an oath, and pre-figured in His own conquering of death.
Those looking for a better land, a land of promise, are not content to be forgotten in a foreign land. This short life can be full of the groans of Egypt. Every one of us will be raised, to judgment or to glory. Our bones will not be forgotten.
It was one of the most striking memories of my youth/young adulthood. The 1980 Winter Olympics, when the upstart United States ice hockey team beat the mighty Soviets, then won the gold medal by defeating Finland. And, in the astoundingly exciting and poignant broadcast, as the game was winding down into its final seconds, the TV announcer cried out, “Do you believe in miracles?” I still get chills when I watch the replay.
Miracles – specifically, of the resurrection type – come to the forefront during Easter season. But asking “Do you believe in miracles?” is actually the wrong question. A miracle is a temporary suspension of the natural order by exertion of some super-natural power. Therefore, the question really is – Do you believe in God?
Not just any god. Do you believe in a God who created all nature, and before whom nature is subject? If you acknowledge a god in your own image who is subject to the laws of nature, or in no God at all, then of course, you won’t believe in miracles. But if you see all of nature as the handiwork of God, under His sovereign control, and subject to His power – and if you see God as the one setting up astoundingly wise and complex natural order, yet reserving to Himself the privilege of overruling and altering those “laws” – then of course you believe in miracles.
We all tend to like the comfort zone of a clock that ticks forward, a second and a minute and an hour at a time. But a clockmaker can, if he wishes, make it run backward – really, without a whole lot of effort. Creating an entire universe didn’t tax God’s power too much, so a few miracles here and there shouldn’t get us rattled. Any so-called deity whose hands are tied by created things, however, should definitely be a cause for concern…
When it came time for that great patriarch of generations back, Jacob (also called Israel), to give an end-of-life blessing to his 12 children, the occasion was definitely not all sweetness and light. The fact is, among the twelve, there was quite a variety, not only in skill and interests, but also in moral behaviors.
The oldest, Reuben, who would normally be expected to receive the pre-eminent blessing, had disgraced himself with sexual immorality. And the next two, Simeon and Levi, were hot-heads who had slaughtered another tribe out of a sense of aggrieved vengeance. Yes, their sister Dinah had been defiled by Shechem, but their disproportionate response of merciless premeditated murder was condemned by their father.
And here’s the point: what you do today can impact not only the rest of your life, but generations to come.
The most nobility among Israel’s sons was displayed by Judah and Joseph, and sure enough, the highest blessings were conferred upon them as their father Israel passed from the scene. Judah displayed some character and substance as time went on, despite past transgressions. And Joseph was the instrument of preserving the entire tribe, when during his sojourn in Egypt, his wisdom and competence elevated him to a position second-in-command to Pharaoh, allowing him to provide for this father and brothers in a time of severe famine.
Their sons and grandsons were the beneficiaries. But if we are ready give vent to our hurtful passions, if we are scheming to break through the barriers of moral and ethical behavior in order to get our own way, let us pause for a moment – maybe for a very long moment – and think about how our future generations will be impacted.
On the other hand, despite impetuous pride in his youth, Joseph proved himself to be young man of amazing competence and principled integrity, which brought about blessing for untold thousands around him and after him. His legacy is a glowing one; that of some of his brothers, not so much.
We often act out of the moment, instead of carefully placing before our eyes the faces of grandchildren and great-grandchildren whose future will be touched by our decisions today. Before you lie in that bed, or embarrass yourself with foolish words or images, or weave a web of lies to try to cover your tracks, remember: you’re going to hand down a legacy. Be careful with that sword, ________.
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