The Problem – Genesis 46

Jacob was overjoyed with the news of Joseph still being alive, his sons returning not only food but the offer of the “best of Egypt” from the Pharoah.

One problem…

The “promised land” was Canaan, not Egypt. Jacob feared if he moved to Egypt, his family might never inherit the land. Could he take the risk for generations to come, the promise from his grandfather’s, father’s and his God? What if his children adopted Egyptian gods? Would it be his failure as a father?

So, he stopped and talked with God.

First, he worshipped God. I wonder what it was like – Jacob praising God for saving Joseph’s life, protecting him, lifting him up? God had provided food, even wagons for his grandchildren. It was more than he could imagine as he presented himself before God, acknowledging the God of his fathers as his God.

Secondly, God acknowledged Jacob’s sacrifice by calling him by name. Think about it, God knew Jacob’s name. And he didn’t call him Israel, the name given to him years before by God. He knew Jacob’s name when he was a sinner, needing God’s grace.

Thirdly, Jacob responded when he heard his name, “Here I am.” He made himself available to God in that very moment. He had no idea what God was going to ask or say. After all, it had been a while since he had heard from God. Maybe God would say, “Turn around. Forget Joseph. I don’t want you to go.”

But Jacob still said, “Here I am.” And God assured him his fears would not come true. In fact, it would be the opposite.

First, God affirmed who he was, God Almighty, the God who provided and forgave Jacob’s grandfather, and father, as well as Jacob.

Second, he acknowledged Jacob’s fear, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.” God knows when we are afraid, especially when making life changing decisions.  We don’t even need to tell him, although it is good to get emotions out in the open. Jacob didn’t have the ability to mess up God’s plan, because God keeps his promises.

Third, God promised his presence, “I myself will go down with you to Egypt.” God goes with us wherever we go. I remind myself of that fact every time we’ve faced a move, surgery, a new challenge, or even when I get up in the morning.

God himself goes with me.  

And fourth, God give us a vision and hope, “And I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” Can you imagine the emotional impact of those words on an old man’s heart? His nation would someday live in Canaan again. His beloved Joseph would close his eyes.

I can’t help but think of my own walk with God. I need to stop…stop going in the direction of my heart, and connect with my God. There are times when I need to simply worship him, to hear him call my name. And I want to present myself with a simple, “Here I am.”  

I want to see him as God Almighty, able and willing. I want to fall to my knees when he acknowledges my fears only he knows. I want to embrace his presence in my life. And I want to be comforted by his vision for my life and let hope surge through my veins.

And then, like Jacob, I can “set out” for whatever God has before me.

A Glimmer of Hope – Genesis 40

Poor Joseph is in jail, but he bucks up and makes the best of it, showing his trustworthiness to the jailer and rising in the ranks of the lowest of low.

Enter two men who were of high standing, serving a somewhat fickle Pharoah, who became angry with them and threw them in jail. “They continued for some time in custody” with Joseph appointed to be with them. The chief jailer assigned them his best.

Then came the dreams, to both of them on the same night. Sensitive to their emotions, Joseph saw they were “troubled.” They had been in Pharoah’s court and knew how the wise men and magicians interpreted dreams, but never guessed a Hebrew slave in prison could do the same.

Before saying a word, Joseph gave the glory to God, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” While others took credit for themselves to gain position, Joseph did not.

As the cupbearer shared his dream, and the outcome was so wonderul, the baker couldn’t contain himself as he stepped forward with his similar dream. But the outcome was so different.

I can’t help but wonder what those three days of suspense were like. Did they dare believe the Hebrew slave? Did the baker cry out to his gods? Was the cupbearer elated, or fearful? After all, they did not know Joseph’s God.

And what did Joseph feel, waiting those three days. Did he fear he got it wrong, didn’t hear from God correctly? Things hadn’t gone well at Potiphar’s house – maybe this was another trap? What if it the interpretation didn’t come true?

And then it was Pharoah’s birthday. I can imagine the celebration. I wonder if the prisoners heard the partying down in the dungeon? Then the invitation came for the cupbearer and baker to join the party with the other servants…

Joseph waited in silence, in the prison.

The news came – the interpretation was true! The cupbearer was restored to his position, but the poor baker, well, it was not so good for him. 

There is a glimmer of light, of hope, in the story. Surely the cupbearer would remember what Joseph had done for him. The door was cracked. Any day now, it would open… 

Joseph had sought God. He had stepped into opportunity. He had been bold to speak God’s name. Surely he will be rewarded…

Desperation – Psalm 69

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the deep mire where there is no foothold;I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am wary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. (Psalm 69:1-3)

I’ve been there, haven’t you? Desperate for my God. Waters rising, sometimes slowly, sometimes a rush. I loose my footing; everything that gave me balance slowly slips away, like mud eroding beneath my feet. The water gets deeper and I can’t touch bottom, or even know how deep it is. The terror overwhelms until capacity runs out. I’m weary, limp, letting each wave move me until the light of hope grows dim.

Right now is a scary time. Things that once supported us are slipping away. We see the waves of Covid come closer. Economics are uncertain and jobs are slipping out from under us. Politics are uncertain with values, assumptions, even familiar sites are destroyed. We reach out, but little is secure.

And it’s probably not as deep as it may get in the future, when we actually lose our job, our health, our “nest egg.” The anxiety we feel now is actually a good thing because it helps us to keep fighting. But what about when we become so overwhelmed that we don’t have the strength to go on…

My goal has not been to depress you, and I apologize if I have brought you down, but I have found, personally, that facing reality even if it is hard, is helpful. I know what to expect, what feelings I am going to have. And then, in faith, I can start claiming God’s “steadfast love.” Psychologists call it “normalization” — in realizing feelings are overwhelming as much as “normal” in a situation like we are in.

It’s normal to feel desperate to lose a loved one without being able to say goodbye or give one last hug. It’s normal to jump when someone sneezes. It’s normal to mourn the loss of co-workers who are laid off. It’s all part of our desperation, the mud slipping from underneath out feet.

What do we do with desperation?

I would lose all hope except for the “but” in the Psalms…

But as for me, my pray is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. (Psalms 13:15)

First, it is a choice…for me…the “who.” Will I depend on the news source, the medical community, the political party, even my family and friends as wonderful as they are?

Second, I recognize who is in charge of “when” is an “acceptable time.” My Lord and my God, who made the universe that we are just now figuring out how old it is! He created time, the sun and the moon that tell us what day it is. He knows, from his perspective, what is the “acceptable time” in my life.

Third, I realize the “why” he would save me — his steadfast love. Covid, injustices, destruction, even death are not beyond his “steadfast love.” It’s his heart, his motivation, it’s what he feels (yes, God is not unfeeling) towards me.

Fourth, I embrace the “how” — his “saving faithfulness.” No enemy is more powerful than the creator of the universe. No matter what the outcome of the elections, the diseases, the economy, or anything else that may take my life, my livelihood, my security, he has me. He will be faithful because faithfulness is his character.

I end up feeling as if someone has put rocks beneath my feet — four of them! The who, when, why and how. My head rises above the water. I feel a surge of strength, of hope.

I don’t know “what” is going to come next, but I have made the choice to stand on his rocks and pray, pray, pray!